A Saturday Night Fever Dream

April 29th, 2013

Oneida – Mercury Lounge – April 27, 2013

A set by Oneida isn’t something you should step into halfheartedly. The veteran noise-jammers have literally played hours on end of penetrating, instrumental music. By those standards, their post-midnight set at Mercury Lounge on Saturday night was an utterly accessible affair. Don’t get me wrong, the band that wished everyone a happy Friday night when the clock was decidedly into Sunday morning and that introduced every piece with “This is a song by Oneida,” still indulged in plenty of their patented fever-dream excursions: walls of sound that seemed to bury their ego, superego and id in overlapping swaths of guitar, keyboards and drums for the audience to discover themselves.

Their Merc set was decidedly song-oriented, which is to say that each tune had lyrics and discernible themes. They opened with a longer fractal jam, where subtle deviations from one musician then another then another, eventually moved the entire mass in one direction or another before finally, 10 minutes later, imploding into an ambient space-out. The second song was, indeed, a song, with a dark proto-metal riff, a Zeppelin/punk/psych-rock combo that had drummer Kid Millions pummeling along at an impossible click. Another piece had a heavy organ groove while the dual guitarists swarmed around with a model-airplane buzz, circling the keyboards, eventually consuming them. As is often the case, it was the drums tying the competing ideas together, Millions impossibly playing with everyone else simultaneously while seemingly making it happen on his own.

The set closed with “Up with People,” a dancehall-techno thing that perfectly matched a latch-on hook with Oneida’s go-anywhere improvisational mien. Playing all those concise songs, even at eight or nine minutes a hit, left plenty of room for an encore, and the band took full advantage, flitting through a couple of cursory verses before diverging into a 20-minute journey: drums swimming in a molten pool of guitars and keyboards, simultaneous ecstatic peaks and spiraling descents, an all-consuming pounding that eventually faded into an oblivion jam, the denouement a full-fledged awe-inspiring piece of improv on its own. —A. Stein