A pair of Portland-based indie rock darlings painted lush, delay-drenched soundscapes and moody, alt-rock impressionist pieces at the Bluebird Theater Thursday night in a show that was more a co-headlining bill than anything else. Menomena and the Helio Sequence delighted a crowd of indie rockers that seemed to range from teenagers just out of high school to grizzled alt-rock vets.
Menomena, which has headlined the Bluebird the last two years, including a show at the same venue in March, and the band that arguably has the bigger draw, in part due to drummer Danny Seim having family in Colorado (he even sings a reference to Boulder Canyon in the song “One Horse” from the band’s most recent album, “Moms”), opened the night.
It’s impressive to hear Menomena live, in part because of the band’s ability to pull off its densely textured songs, many of which are structured with multiple parts. Watching Seim put his whole body into his drumming while he also sings is a treat. Co-founder Justin Harris switches between a variety of instruments, including bass, guitar and alto sax, all while triggering other sounds on bass pedals and a dizzying array of effects with his feet. Touring member Dave Depper, while primarily adding keyboard parts, also picks up a guitar every now and then, as in “Don’t Mess with Latexas,” while guitarist Matt Dabrowiak alternates between crunchy rhythm parts and melodic lines.
Thursday’s show at the Bluebird explored some of the band’s more obscure tracks. They opened with “Ghostship” and moved quickly into the haunting “Capsule.”
However, the highlight of the first part of the set was the haunting “Five Little Rooms,” and it showcased why a band known for such densely layered studio tracks that are filled with a lot of different sounds and parts is actually best seen live. Seim’s drumming pounded out with depth and ferocity while Harris’ sax splashed in and out between verses, and the song took on a gravity that the recorded version lacks.
The fiery “Don’t Mess with Latexas” started with a descending feedback riff from Dabrowiak while Depper played a dreamy piano riff and Seim used his sticks to create a rhythm that sounded like clapping; the crowd quickly picked it up while Harris rolled the bass in and out the band all jumped in on cue, getting the audience to dance with abandon.
In contrast to Menomena, Helio Sequence had a more upbeat set that danced a fine line between pop and indie. Drummer Benjamin Weikel had a smile on his face for almost the whole show, and frequently dropped his head close to his snare while waving his sticks in the air. Guitarist and singer Brandon Summers had an almost subdued stage presence, seeming almost shy on the few occasions when he addressed the crowd to thank them for being there. His guitar tones at times seemed to sound much like Dean Wareham of Luna.
An early highlight for Helio Sequence was “Downward Spiral,” as Summers built a delirious guitar sound over Weikel’s drum beats and the sequenced parts underneath, dropping to a whisper on the post-chorus line “And you always second guess.”
Seim stepped onstage briefly to sing harmony vocals with Summers on “Keep Your Eyes Ahead,” and Summers laughed and said Seim had been threatening to do that for the entire tour, and finally got around to it. The duo returned for a two-song encore, ending with the brilliant “Lately,” which had Summers playing an upbeat arpeggiated guitar line over Weikel’s upbeat and solid rhythms.
Ghostship, Capsule Weird, Plumage, Five Little Rooms, E is Stable, Strongest Man in the World, Queen Black Acid, The Pelican, Heavy is as Heavy Does, Don’t Mess with Latexas, TAOS
One More Time, October, Downward Spiral, Can’t Say No, The Captive Mind, Hall of Mirrors, Open Letter, When the Shadow Falls, Harmonica Song, December, Keep Your Eyes Ahead, Negotiations, Hallelujah, E: You Can Some to Me, Lately