Opening Night Party. Free meatballs! Open bar! Uh oh.
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 20
Think I’ll just skip Crystal Castles and sleep those balls and beers off. There’s a Helio Sequence laser light show tomorrow. Gotta be fresh. Lasers!
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 21
I briefly consider hunting for something mushroomy to help Helio Sequence’s set go down nice and easy, but Built to Spill is playing the majestic Moore Theatre a couple hours before the Helio boys trip the light fantastic at the nearby Pacific Science Center, and I’m a wee bit freaked by the idea of hearing “Randy Described Eternity” in a radically altered state. Also: I don’t do drugs.
So I opt for the kind of clarity one finds at the bottom of a beer and settle in for Martsch and his men, anticipating either a blown mind or a bored brain. It’s been eleven years since I last saw Built to Spill; the recent albums haven’t done much for me; I’m nervous. But I’m also excited: I’ve been listening to “Car” on repeat all day, so Martsch’s former brilliance is fresh in my mind.
The jammy slog of an opening song confirms my worst fears--Built to Spill is now Built to Phish--but the seventy minutes following that slow start needle and nudge every sweet spot I still have left in my decrepit form.
Through a career-spanning set wisely weighted with songs from the late nineties, Built to Spill calmly and convincingly argues its case. Granted, Martsch offers little in the way of engaging banter, bass player Brett Nelson seems to have just emerged from a not altogether restful coma and the kindest thing one can say about the other three dudes’ stage presence is that they do not fall asleep. But! Songs like “Distopian Dream Girl” and “In the Morning” and “I Would Hurt a Fly” are definitive blasts of bittersweetness for folks of a certain age, and as a reluctant member of that particular graying group, I am simply tickled to see and hear those songs being conjured by men who look like high school art teachers, and the fact that Martsch’s angelic voice is now emerging from a visage that is startlingly similar to Nicholson Baker’s leonine mug only makes the plaintive tunes that much more affecting and haunting.
We’re all getting old, but Built to Spill’s still got it, and this knowledge finds me exiting the Moore heartened, warmed, ready for whatever this Helio Sequence laser light show has in store. Having recently experienced the disappointingly janky Laser Queen thing at OMSI, I must say I’m expecting something similar from this one-off spectacular: a ceiling lit up with a slighty spiffier version of a raver’s neon wand. I predict very bright boredom, basically.
My prediction: so goddamn off-base it’s not even funny. Actually, it is funny--really funny, in fact--because although I am not even the slightest bit high on goofballs or mushrooms or pot brownies or whatever it is I’m assuming the packed house dosed itself with before I arrived, Helio Sequence’s Main Street Electrical Parade has delivered me to the doorstep of trippy transcendence, that threshold where everything is sublime and hilarious and moving, and the only right response is letting the giggle in your little head grow, divide, multiply.
Half of the crowd scored seats, while the rest of us lie on the carpet in a post-orgy heap of splayed and scrunched limbs. I bother to look at Brandon and Benjamin just two or three times during Helio Sequence’s set, and then only to confirm that I have not in fact blasted off into another dimension. They are our anchors, and fine ones they turn out to be. I am not a big enough fan to tick off song titles here, but I’m familiar enough with the band’s catalogue to confirm that the best songs from it are being trotted out tonight, and the dome’s acoustics render what I’ve always considered to be an overly polished sound into something heavy and mean and LOUD. This is the Helio Sequence I’ve always wanted: pretty as well as intense, spacey with a tinge of borderline violence.
And those lights! OMSI would hang it’s big dumb dome-shaped head in shame if it peeped the Pacific Science Center’s brilliant display. Infinite spirals spin out and in as blossoming bursts enliven peripheral vision; the concave ceiling gives birth to a sky of brilliant stars; geometry gets bent, broken, screwed; rectilinear forms collapse into new ways of being and seeing; a wash of red narrows to a point before blinking out like an old tube TV.
It is so totally radical. I’m hooked. Someone--I’m looking at you, OMSI--needs to make this a regular thing down in Portland. Imagine a Thermals laser light show! Actually, don’t imagine that. Your head will explode.
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 22
Rose Windows floors me with its psych-rock dirges. Mudhoney’s “Touch Me I’m Sick” turns me into a true-blue Seattleite. Whalebones scratches my hard-to-find classic rock itch. And Male Bonding brings its wonderful new album to screaming, fuzzed-out life (hearing “Bones” live might actually be my festival highlight, song-wise). This is all wonderful stuff. But my night is lacking lasers. I’ve seen the other side. I like the other side. The other side feels like a Gaspar Noe credit sequence. The other side feels like drugs, only without the drugs. I think I’ve been ruined. Thanks a lot, stupid lasers. Thanks a lot, Helio Sequence.