Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Live: Sightings, Oneida

When: 3/19
Where: Knitting Factory

So a few weeks ago, I went to see Oneida at the new Knitting Factory in Brooklyn and Sightings were opening. I've seen the band before, but the night I know I saw them first is almost entirely missing from my memory, so it was pretty much like coming to the band fresh. And they proved my lack of memory of the last set I saw was not the fault of the band - love 'em or hate 'em, they are memorable.

I do love them! Their noise is like bulldozers razing your eardrums - if any band could challenge A Place To Bury Strangers for the spot of "loudest band in NYC," it's these guys. However, APTBS get you with cutting blasts of feedback, whereas Sightings pile sheer sonic weight on their audience. "Noise" is the only way to describe it, but unlike many "noise" bands, Sightings have meticulous control of their sound. They aren't just playing with shit and getting lucky, they have a vision - a bleak, skull-shattering vision - and they know how to get their instruments make the sounds to do it.

And through all of this massive guitar drone and woven into the heavy, mindless pulse of the bass are songs. There's a pop appeal here - most people probably wouldn't see it, but there are rhythms, structures and the faintest hint of melody that keep the band on point. (This was exemplified with even more clarity when I saw the band at Death by Audio last week.)

The indecipherable vocals, though in some contrast to the inhuman buzz and thud of the guitars and drums, never sound like an afterthought. Instead, delivered by the oddly appealing Mark Morgan, the words are marked with genuine desperation that has not yet turned to nihilism. Pronounced with flat restraint, they form a ominous conversation with band's erratic noise. The result is uneasy, cataclysmic and ultimately, deeply satisfying. [myspace]

Sadly, not so for Oneida, whom, despite my best efforts, I just can't really get into. I do respect the band - it's made up of talented musicians with some truly original ideas. But to my ears, it just doesn't quite come together. The band launched into an instrumental epic and by the time vocals came in, they did seem like an afterthought - they failed to blend with the music. The long passages - and they are all long - are a bit self-indulgent, with slight modulations on repetition after repetition. It's the kind of thing that could be amazing to someone on drugs. Less so to me.

What it comes down to is that, as far as I can understand the music, the whole is never more than the sum of its parts. Each song is a series of good ideas which the band slowly nurtures into robust sections, but they take too long to grow each part and that is all they do, over and over again. I hesitate to speak with definitive sentiment here, because I can tell the band has immense talent and creativity and I keep hoping there's something I'm not getting and once I get it, I'll love the band as much as many others seem to. But there seemed no logic to the sequencing of sections, no ultimate momentum or focus, just ideas fleshed out to the point of exhaustion. I like my music to be written, not just played, but if this was written, composed, it was done so poorly.

I was also irked by the band's stage presence. Guitarist "Hanoi Jane" proved a regular chatty Cathy not with the audience but with his bandmates. He repeatedly walked up to each one to exchange words. No doubt the exchanges were about the music, but there was something in them that seemed disaffected. Perhaps it's too much to ask that bands converse on stage only with great emotional intensity, but the little asides and laughs really gave me the feeling this is just a job for Oneida. I know that's not true, but c'mon, you gotta show us you want to be on stage, you want to be making this music - need to, even - and the way they presented themselves, they might have just as well gone to the beach.

Perhaps the pairing with Sightings was unfortunate for the band - where Sightings were bleeding with sincerity, Oneida were somewhat lackadaisical and aloof. Where Sightings were focused and restrained, Oneida were indulgent and scattered. I wouldn't write Oneida off - they are the real deal - but if given the choice, I'd go with Sightings every time. [myspace]

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