THE HELIO SEQUENCE at BLUEBIRD THEATER | 10/24/13 When Brandon Summers pulled out his harmonica last night at the Bluebird, we all what was coming, "Harmonica Song," of course. Summers blew into his mouth harp like he was playing some kind of strange blues rock song, and he did so with so much momentum and energy that it didn't really fit neatly into any kind of rock subgenre. It was a bright spot in a set of entrancingly uplifting yet moody music.
After a long drive from Nebraska, Summers and drummer Benjamin Weikel were in great spirits. It didn't seem like they were expecting such a warm and enthusiastic reception, but that's what they got, and the guys gave back with a great performance. The Helio Sequence's set last night drew mostly from the act's two most recent albums, 2008's Keep Your Eyes Ahead and 2012's Negotiations. Opening the set with "One More Time," from the latter album, the band paced itself well, striking a heightened pique of emotion and sound and then pulling back to near silence.
The expertly textured and sequenced "The Captive Mind" was reminiscent of '80s-era New Order and Talk Talk at the same time in the way it expressed a complex emotional state with utter clarity through its melody. "Hall of Mirrors," one of the outfit's finest songs, harkened to Kilimanjaro-period the Teardrop Explodes, with an elegant and compelling melody that had inventive shifts in tone that engendered a shift in mood from melancholic to hopeful with a subtle but powerful shift in key.
The set closed with "Hallelujah" to much rejoicing from the audience. That tune, especially live, proved a great example of a song that breaks outward and expands to linger at the end. Rather than devolving into abstraction off into the stratosphere, it engulfed you. After the end of the main set, the band didn't keep us waiting long for an encore, and came back for two more songs from Keep Your Eyes Ahead, "You Can Come To Me" and "Lately."
Keep reading for a review of Menomena's set, Setlists and Critic's Notebook
Menomena opened the show, and most of the crowd were clearly fans of that band as well. The quartet often gets lumped in with "indie rock," but that vague term doesn't really suit these guys. There was a lot of jazz in this band's music, underpinning its ability to weave in elements in a balanced way.
The songs are made much more interesting thanks to how obviously rhythm-driven the band is; Danny Seim is a skilled drummer, and he drove the songs, while Justin Harris played strong, melodic bass lines, emphasizing the rhythms almost more than the melodies. It was also interesting to see the two navigate that territory with their two other bandmates in a way that made the music seem vivid and powerful.
Drawing upon each of its albums dating back to 2003's I Am The Fun Blame Monster!, these guys seemed to be having fun, and while they were very tight, they also cut loose a little. Seim was particularly expressive in his drumming for "Queen Black Acid," and that seemed to help propel the rest of the band into a heightened state. That song would have been the peak of this performance, except that the band saved Mines track "TAOS" for last, and everyone stretched out a bit for one of the band's most sonically daring songs.
The Helio Sequence Bluebird Theater - 10/24/13 Denver, CO
01. One More Time 02. October 03. Downward Spiral 04. Can't Say No 05. The Captive Mind 06. Hall of Mirrors 07. Open Letter 08. When The Shadow Falls 09. Harmonica Song 10. December 11. Keep Your Eyes Ahead 12. Negotiations 13. Hallelujah
14. You Can Come To Me 15. Lately
Menomena Bluebird Theater - 10/24/13 Denver, CO
01. Ghostship 02. Capsule 03. Weird 04. Plumage 05. Five Little Rooms 06. E. Is Stable 07. Strongest Man in the World 08. Queen Black Acid 09. The Pelicans 10. Heavy Is As Heavy Does 11. Don't Mess With Latexas 12. TAOS
Personal Bias: I've been a fan of the Helio Sequence since Young Effectuals came out, but I hadn't seen the band since 2005 when it toured with Rogue Wave. I've been a fan of Menomena for quite some time, as well. Random Detail: Brandon Summers played his SG for most, if not all, of the show. By the Way: This show ended at 10:58 p.m., including the encore. That might be some kind of record for a show that didn't really start until after 8:30.