PORTLAND HAS HAD a love affair with arty indierock bands for a long time. The Geraldine Fibbers, Deerhoof, Sonic Youth, Liars, etc., all have boasted some of their best crowd responses in our fertile town. So it has pained me to watch Oneida struggle to get in front of the right audience in a city that should herald them as kings.
Oneida have been doing their thing for a long time, first touring as an organ-driven rock band in the late '90s, eventually signing to Jagjaguwar, and helping to spearhead the Brooklyn sound. By early 2002, they were collaborating with Liars and arguably helped push those leaders of the dance/punk movement to take a hard left turn and become pure sonic artists instead. Oneida on the other hand just kept on making skewed synth-driven music with their signature harmonies and propulsive rhythms.
Happy New Year is the latest in a string of five perfect albums (I won't judge the early records I don't own). Though the last two have been a shade mellower than their more searing past works, the live show is still monumental. For a band that tends to be eclectic and exploratory, there is a remarkable consistency to their catalog. Muted vocal melodies chanted over keyboard beds over repetitive, insistent drum beats. It's a formula that leaves them a ton of room to make new music, without throwing the audience a bunch of quirky curveballs they can't instantly hum along with.
Onstage, Oneida devastate. These four boyish men (recently joined by Phil Manley of Trans Am under the moniker "Double Rainbow") have an abstract sense of humor, a cultivated mystique that puts the audience instantly at ease, even when they're being bombarded by the same riff for 14 minutes. "This song is by a band called Oneida" is a common introduction on stage. The grin that accompanies it is a breath of fresh fucking air considering how long these guys have been a best-kept secret. Thanks for not being jaded, Oneida. Thanks for sticking with us. Hopefully Portland will discover you this time.