Apparently damned to be a stupendous and unpretentious rock band in a world where rock is no longer great and its only claim left appears to be pretense, Oneida plow ever onward. Having babysat both Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Liars during Brooklyn’s last rock boom, the trio still watch their opening bands snag sweet deals some five years and seven albums on. Everyday dudes with absurd superhero aliases like Bobby Matador, Hanoi Jane, and Kid Millions, they post individual blogs at enemyhogs.com, revealing the group conflicted while they ponder their hatred of David Crosby and bullshit temp jobs and love for Christine McVie and the WB 11 morning news.
Through such travails, dead-end gigs, and frustrations, Oneida retain an upbeat, almost utopian outlook. That is, if your idea of idyllic is a Warriors world where the MTA runs on grand funk railroads, James Gangs roam the Williamsburg waterfront screaming blue cheers, and classic-rock power trios are still lord. Even beset by technical difficulties in a dusty vacant lot on Labor Day weekend, Oneida can be dug by the drunk ‘n’ devout. No PA, no problem; as the din swallows vocals, the dudes just grin and bare their psychedelic teeth.
Their live shows always flash a certain dream-machine mesmerism, a Silver Apples—like throb of embodied oscillations, to ensure that the PBR hits the pineal just so. But what Oneida product has seeped out in 2005 is more head-scratch than skull-fuck, more twee than tweak. Always cacophonous and punkish early on, by their fourth album, 2001’s Anthem of the Moon, Oneida made explicit their love of Jerry Bear and those hippie chicks from the Incredible String Band. And by the time of their requisite 2002 double album Each One, Teach One, the duality was cast: There were tunes, and there were jams. “Sheets of Easter” was Kraut-rock as water torture, just one chord made into a trepan. They enjoined the two extremes again on Secret Wars in 2004, and even this writer figured the concept couldn’t be topped. Yet I still ludicrously expected their next step to be more extreme, more psychoactive. But what was left to do? Half-hour songs? A triple LP?
Come April, The Wedding showed that Oneida had veered off the highway to hell entirely and into fields both poppy and weedy, chock-full of sweet songs. Love of every variety is in bloom throughout, from puppy to lunkheaded, wide-eyed to rueful, for girls who are potheads, or public park pissers. Banjo, ukulele, mandolin, zither, and harpsichord are unplugged-in by Hanoi Jane as much as the electric guitar. Piano and sitar add a twinkle to the spacey sludge of “Heavenly Choir.” Drum machines are sprinkled in when you’d be insane to not employ the man-machine of Kid Millions at all times. But then again, he was busy scoring the string quartet to hit all the notes that he endearingly couldn’t on plaintive pop songs like “The Eiger,” “Charlemagne,” and “Know.” And why not strings? Even the James Gang had ’em by Rides Again. Those still looking for Oneida’s rock of yore need only cue the Ozzy yowl on “Did I Die?” or look to the band’s newest venture, running their own Brah imprint. Replete with cream-spewing logo, the label already has Brooklynites like Company (slack Palace-sway) and the Dirty Faces (noisome Trux-boogie) on board.
Brah kicks things off with a split single between Oneida and Chicago’s fanzine and psyche zealots Plastic Crimewave Sound. Rather than match the detuned churn of PCS, Oneida eschew rock entirely on yet another double-digit-minute dribbler, dubbed “Prehistoric Maze.” Here they hew closer to the Third Ear Band, Sun City Girls, and other weird folk trios, with lute, hexolele, and Celtic hand drums thrown into a cauldron of castrato caterwauls, slowly cooking it all down to pure wobble ‘n’ rattle. The band calls “Maze” an outtake from their next studio project, Thank Your Parents, which they threaten will be a triple album by the time they’re done. OK, so maybe Oneida are a little pretentious.
Oneida play Mercury Lounge October 21.