Oneida has been one of my favorite bands in recent years, a group that seems to be capable of doing so much… And yet, Oneida remains fairly obscure. I used to wonder why the group wasn’t getting more attention, but I can see why. Oneida’s experimental impulses take the band down some strange musical paths that may turn off some listeners. This is a band that loves stretching musical idioms to the breaking point – and sometimes beyond. A musical motif that might take up a few seconds in a normal song goes on for minutes in an Oneida song. “Song”? When the band played Saturday night (Aug. 16) at the Empty Bottle, the musicians jokingly referred to the fact that they were playing “things” rather than “songs.” Oneida is one of those musical acts that can move you into a sort of transcendental state through its use of long repetitions and intense rhythms. That sort of experimentation may drive some people crazy, but Oneida has some pretty strong melodies at the core of its songs… once the guys finally get around to singing (which didn’t happen all that often during the Saturday show).
Oneida’s latest record, Preeteen Weaponry, comes with a sticker proclaiming rather pompously (or more likely, sarcastically): “The first piece of Oneida’s much-anticipated “Thank You Parents” triptych of releases, which will lay bare the band’s colossal vision of a new age in music.” Wow. I don’t know that this record really shows a colossal vision of a new age in music, but it does sound pretty colossal. It’s just three tracks, and they run into one another, creating the feeling that it’s all one song. The first track is the build-up, the middle one has the singing (just a little bit), and the third is the cool electronic fadeout.
Saturday, Oneida opened its show by playing Preteen Weaponry in its entirety. It was a strong start to a strong set, which came to an end with the great song “Up With People” and a new one called “The River” (I think). As always, drummer Kid Millions was amazing, driving every song forward at high speed with his insane rhythms. The rest of the band was tight, but not tight with the precision of math rock. It was more like you were hearing five guys playing sixteenth notes, falling in and out of sync, and whenever they fell into sync, the music became more intense. The first time I saw Oneida, they played as a trio. Then they were four. Now they are five, but the core trio still seems to be the weirdly named Kid Millions, Hanoi Jane (now calling himself Baby Hanoi Jane on the band’s myspace page) and Fat Bobby (now calling himself Bobby Matador).
The only problem with seeing Oneida in concert is that you don’t get to see the full breadth of what the band can do. I enjoyed the vocal harmonies on Oneida’s Happy New Year album, which sounded almost like medieval folk music at times, but the group is too intent on its hectic rhythms to spend much time harmonizing in concert.
The opening acts included Arriver, whom I’ve seen a couple of times before. As far as heavy-metal bands go, they’re fairly fun to watch, with some tight, fast riffs. The show also featured Dirty Faces, a band I was not familiar that shares a record label with Oneida, Brah. At times, Dirty Faces was pretty shambolic, sounding like the music was going to fall apart at any minute, but then it came together into a sort of sludgy garage punk, sounding at times like the Stooges or Velvet Underground.