The Helio Sequence almost feels like a band making one last round. Their most recent record, Negotiations, is their first new recording in four years and while expertly produced, doesn’t live up to the riveting hooks and inventive beats of 2008’s brilliant Keep Your Eyes Ahead.
As a result, seeing the band promoting this new record doesn’t sound quite as exciting as it would have a few years ago. Incredibly, the band maintained that level of precision and energy Sunday night at the Crescent Ballroom in Phoenix as they leaned heavily on Keep Your Eyes Ahead, playing nearly every song from it during their set. That certainly helped their cause, but that’s only part of the band’s in-person magic.
The Helio Sequence, as always, played as a two piece and they used a computer to fill in the other parts, including their many electronic frills. Sonically, the band couldn’t sound any better. Fewer moving parts helped make that easier, as does the sheen of mastered backing tracks. While that kind of trickery would normally disappoint, the band more than made up for it with a compelling performance on every song. Singer and guitarist Brandon Summers almost never missed a note, while drummer Benjamin Weikel has to be one of the most entertaining and watchable beat men going. He has this twitching way of playing and he can’t help but make faces with each beat. It’s quite mesmerizing, and Weikel is probably worth the price of admission by himself.
The duo played the stronger of the Negotiations tracks, leaving behind the least impressive elements of the recording. Thanks to the energy of their performance and the benefit of being spread among the band’s more enduring catalog entries, those songs were definitely enhanced and felt welcomed.
Summers hardly bothered with banter as the band chose to keep ripping through songs rather than hang out on stage. That made the few moments he spoke more poignant, as he was clearly thankful and even humbled by the amazing, positive crowd reaction. I can’t say if the overwhelming praise was unique to this night, but the outpouring of support noticeably moved the duo.
The Helio Sequence is a band that plays sincere songs, and its clear those compositions held a fair amount of meaning to those in attendance. For the band and the crowd to share an evening of joy and gratitude was something special to experience. It’s the kind of uplifting scene that would fit in a new song from The Helio Sequence, actually. After the sub-par Negotiations, some fans might be on the fence about seeing the band live. But with performances like this, missing them would be a mistake.