When I arrived at The Independent on Thursday, I immediately took the spot in the front row immediately in front of the draped drum kit on stage right. I knew from past experience with Helio Sequence that this is both the best and worst spot to be when they play. It’s the best because you get to watch the crazy, happy faces of Benjamin Weikel as he slams away brilliantly on his drum kit. And it’s the worst because you’re really close to that drum kit. And it’s loud.
But before the Helio Sequence could take the stage, I was tasked with listening to Slowdance, a band I knew nothing about. They sang one song in English, and then moved right into French. A Montreal band perhaps? No, I looked them up on my phone. Brooklyn of course. Now, I’d come directly from a 90-minute set by The Hives, who all dress impeccably in matching clothes and give it their all as they jump around the stage. Slowdance was having none of that. They just kind of stood there in mismatched thrift store outfits, playing songs that had keyboard lines reminiscent of New Order, but not much else that caught my attention besides the bass player. If this band were a college team, only the bass player would be drafted into the pros. And they’d be this year’s Cal team.
The vastly underexposed headliners, Helio Sequence, came up next. I discovered this band at Bumbershoot in Seattle, not by seeing them, but by the inclusion of “Harmonica Song” on a sampler CD I was handed. (Remember those?) I was an instant fan, and waited and waited for their next album, which was the should-be indie classic Keep Your Eyes Ahead. A lyrical and musical masterwork, it’s what most of the fans came to hear. The energy in the crowd was a bit lackluster other than the songs from that album, and the new material from the sonically similar, but lyrically less satisfying Negotiations was met only with polite applause.
Seeing this band live is quite the experience, mostly for the expressive playing of the drummer, Benjamin Weikel. He’s a real life Animal up there, thrashing away happily, making crazy faces, and just killing it. He writes great drum parts, and plays them with raucous intensity. Singer and guitar player Brandon Summers is stiff by comparison, but what he’s playing and singing is beautifully rendered, and wonderfully written, so you’re forced to pay attention to his side of the stage, too. They’re a perfect duo (trio if you count the Mac.)
The Helio Sequence has put many years in between albums and tours, and I for one had missed them terribly. There are just too many great songs left unplayed when they’re not active on the music scene, and I’m glad they’re back. Many happy returns. And I’ll see you in front of the drum kit next time.