It’s not every day you find yourself standing on a street corner trying to give away an unexpected extra ticket given to you by Brandon Summers.
It’s not every day you find yourself standing on a street corner trying to give away an unexpected extra ticket given to you by Brandon Summers. You’d never guess how many idiots would turn it down either. Because despite the fact that this was their third time playing Pensacola, the Helio Sequence was flawless, giving their all for the whole of their 45-minute set. At this point, they had familiar faces to impress. As Summers and drummer Benjamin Weikel took the stage at Vinyl Music Hall, Summers acknowledged the fans who have devotedly made it out to see them each time they’ve made their way all the way from Portland to the panhandle. Even though they were opening for the Church, the crowd was predominantly Helio fans—and hardcore ones, at that.
Even though the band was just getting warmed up on their tour with the Church, they certainly didn’t sound like they were still just getting into the groove. Vinyl is a medium-sized local venue, and its cavernous layout could prove tricky for live music. But barely a note was off as Summers and Weikel treated the audience to a set focusing mainly on 2008’s Keep Your Eyes Ahead, and their most recent, self-titled release. Such a setlist makes a great case for the band sticking to their full yet atmospheric indie rock sound, even over the course of six albums and over 15 years together. Starting out slow with “Red Shifting,” Summers gave a hint at what was to come with the song’s plea to “Let it bleed/ Let it bleed/ Let it all come out.” And let it all come out they did with the tongue-twisting lyrics on “Can’t Say No” perfectly matched by Weikel’s unleashed drums and Summers’ sweet guitar hooks.
Whether the band has reworked some of their songs for live settings—the band is just two guys, after all—or to liven up some of their more downbeat tracks, the set felt like a joyous celebration. The album version of “Stoic Resemblance” filters Summers’ vocals, making them sound tinny and slightly muted; this was not the case when he chanted the chorus of “Oh na-na-na-na-na.” And the same goes for the live version of “Battle Lines.” One thing’s for sure, Summers’ bright guitar sounded even better live than on any previous recording. The guitar intro to the anthemic “October” and the bittersweet “Lately” brought the room to complete stillness. The latter is classic Helio Sequence but still packs a punch, especially when the crowd joins in on the chorus. But it wasn’t all melodic, catchy guitar either. The end of “Battle Lines” roiled with Summers’ breakdown, producing a wall of noise. To back it all was Weikel’s perfect beats (and accompanying faces, so tuned to the rhythm that his mouth gaped open on every snare hit).
Midway through the set, Summers (who did all the talking) admitted that he was coming off three drinks from the previous night off in New Orleans. Weikel had only had one. But even if they weren’t party animals, plenty Helio fans in the crowd were more than happy to let loose. I had to move at one point for fear of my life when a very buff guy in front of me started jumping vigorously in time with the music. The dancing Goldie Hawn twin to my left was a much better option. She and her gal gang swayed to everything, including “Harmonica Song” with its squealing harmonica intro that sounded much more like a musical saw.
As the set drew to a close, the Helio Sequence brought it all back to Keep Your Eyes Ahead and made us all marvel at how a simple duo can create anthems like “Lately,” “Keep Your Eyes Ahead” and “Hallelujah.” For me, it was the perfect way to end the concert, with the first Helio Sequence song I ever heard. The Helio Sequence would rock a larger venue, but in the end, a more intimate show at a smaller venue was an absolute treat.