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  Jason Newstead of Echobrain
Jason Newstead of Echobrain,
Bowery Ballroom, NYC, May 21, 2002
Photo by Glyn Emmerson, © 2002 NY Rock


Check Your Head: Echobrain and the Helio Sequence in Concert at the Bowery Ballroom, by Jeanne Fury

The dudes in Metallica T-shirts obviously didn't get the memo.

Bassist Jason Newstead left the monster band to join Echobrain, and according to the alleged reports, he ain't returning until leader James Hetfield personally asks him to rejoin. The ubiquitous Metallica shirts were like pleas to Newstead to return to the band. I wonder if they made him at all uncomfortable.

Amid a sea of washed-out bikers, kids in hooded sweatshirts, and big-boobed women with "Jersey" written all over them, the crowd seemed to have no interest in expanding their musical tastes. So if you came expecting anything even remotely resembling Metallica's "Enter Sandman," the joke is on you.

Hint number one that this is not a metal show: a theremin. That sci-fi electronic musical instrument that looks like a car antenna was propped up on the stage. Hint number two: the rug that looks like it was nabbed from my parent's foyer and taped to the stage floor. Hint number three, four, five, and six: the other members of Echobrain. We're talking a combination of Ween, Girls Against Boys, and your older cousin Johnny. This was, of course, completely irrelevant to the crowd. They came here not for Echobrain, but for Newstead.

A James Brown number was pumping through the speakers before the lights went down and Echobrain got onstage. As the band played their first song, it was no surprise that the bass lines weren't just grounding the sounds, they were leading them. Whenever Newstead head-banged, the crowd flashed the devil's horns, a.k.a. the sign of rock. The syrupy thick chords of the songs and graceful melodies brought to mind bands like Live and Our Lady Peace. Lead singer Dylan Donkin's voice had a Chris Cornell/Layne Stayley thing going on, and the harder songs indeed sounded like early Soundgarden and Alice in Chains.

"Nice to see you all. Welcome to Echobrain," said Newstead after the first few songs. The guy was elated. He wore his trademark scowl, leaned into the huge amplifiers and rocked them back and forth, and just looked like he was really and truly enjoying himself.

The acoustic numbers were in that Coldplay vein – full of high, airy vocals and catchy melodies. As the night progressed, I noticed that this baby band had some pretty sweet-ass equipment. A percussion kit in addition to the drums, organs and keyboards, the theremin, plenty of shiny guitars, and huge amps. Either they've got a very generous sugar daddy, or Newstead really, really loves this band.

Brandon Summers of the Helio Sequence
Brandon Summers of the Helio Sequence,
Bowery Ballroom, NYC, May 21, 2002
Photo by Glyn Emmerson, © 2002 NY Rock

  
The crowd didn't mosh or head-bang (the music did not spur on such acts), but performed what I would call a check-swing head-bang – a forceful upper body nod, if you will. A mix of garage rock, grunge, and powerfully catchy romps, the music generated some real excitement, though I imagine the crowd would have rather heard a Metallica cover, or maybe even a Judas Priest one. Towards the end of the set, Newstead was alone onstage, tooling around with the theremin while a reddish light was cast over his face. This act received the most applause. Go figure.

The trippy garage rock 'n' roll of the opening act – Portland, Oregon's the Helio Sequence – was a much stronger musical entity. Singer-guitarist Brandon Summers and drummer Benjamin Weikel are such a talented and promising combination, they made Echobrain sound excessive yet mediocre. The duo uses a laptop to sequence undulating rhythms, but they maintain a very organic kind of noise. Of course, the crowd didn't like them. Hmmm, maybe what they needed was a member of Metallica in their band.... But, alas, it was just Summers and Weikel, rocking, sweating, and dousing the airwaves with white-hot symphonic sauce. When Weikel plays, he looks as if his body is guided to the drums by unseen forces and he's just the vehicle. Summers' fingertips scraped along the strings of his guitar, conveying the kind of frenetic anxiety that courses through each song. There's a psychedelic energy to their live performance, free of pretense. The Helio Sequence closed with a flawless performance of "Cut the Cameras" from their album Young Effectuals, and endured some cheap jabs from the morons, I mean, fans as they left the stage.

June 2002

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