Seeing Portland artists Typhoon and Radiation City a few weeks ago was a great experience, so I figured I would keep the theme going by seeing two more bands from area. On Friday, I was lucky to see Portland-based Menomena and The Helio Sequence perform at The Sinclair in Cambridge. It was an excellent night of energetic, experimental indie rock that left me hoping to see them again live soon.
As a co-headlining tour, Menomena and The Helio Sequence have been switching off set spots. In Friday’s case, Menomena went first, opening their set with a quiet introduction with “Ghostship”. Its plodding baseline and drummer Danny Seim’s haunting background whistling (a nice touch from the recorded version) made it a good way to kick off the night. Transitioning directly into another song, or “West” perhaps (which follows on the album), would have been even better.
Danny Seim and Justin Harris are all that’s left of Menomena after Brent Knopf departed a few years ago. Thankfully, their live show has not suffered – in fact, I would say that in my perception, it has improved. This is no knock against Knopf in the least – his talent and songwriting will be forever missed, and his new venture, Ramona Falls, is fantastic – but Danny and Justin seem to be able to get into more of a groove when it’s just the two of them, with the help of two backing musicians to fill in parts. Menomena has never seemed more excited and more energetic.
Occasionally, it did seem like the complexity of Menomena’s songs got the best of them, and this is something I’ve noticed in the few times I’ve seen them. Transitions within songs were occasionally a touch shaky, and sometimes attention to singing tight vocals took a backseat to either Harris’ parts on the baritone sax or Seim’s intense drumming. Still, the setlist demonstrated a good breadth of the band’s catalog, touching on each of their four big releases, with emphasis on last year’s excellent Moms LP.
In truth, two-minute opener “Ghostship” could have been the best song of the night. There was something magical in its simplicity and soundscape. Menomena closed with “Taos”, another strong choice, and certainly ended the show on an energetic high note.
After a half-hour break, The Helio Sequence took the stage. Whereas Menomena’s four-piece band was often busy, almost hectic, Brandon Summers and Benjamin Weikel gave off the vibe of coordinated precision. Summers assumed the frontman role well on guitar and vocals, while Weikel certainly demonstrated his chops on the drums.
Their set was a strong showing of great upbeat indie rock songs. “Hall of Mirrors” and “Harmonica Song” were absolute standouts.
At one point, Brandon Summers mentioned how grateful he was to be touring alongside Menomena. “We’ve known each other since our teenage years,” he stated. With Menomena’s complex sound and The Helio Sequence’s poppy precision, the two complemented each other perfectly. It’s certainly a tour I could see happening again.