Live: Oneida Reign Supreme At The Monster Island Block Party
Better than: Whatever other show I was actually trying to go to.
It was ludicrously beautiful in Brooklyn on Saturday (some hurricane), and thus the perfect time to, in the course of walking to a free outdoor Williamsburg show, inadvertently stumble upon a far superior outdoor Williamsburg show. A word of advice: If you're ever walking along and you see Oneida setting up on the street -- any street -- stop.
The Monster Island Block Party has evidently been raging at Kent and Metropolitan long before I stumble by, a sizable crowd milling in, around, and on the roof of Secret Project Robot. And there, setting up right on the street, is the best live band in Brooklyn. Where/when/how you see Oneida is a crucial part of proving that to be true. When they opened for the Flaming Lips in Central Park in July, regaling a crowd certainly attracted to bombastic, droning, expertly indulgent psych-rock but preferring it be accompanied by confetti canons, human-sized hamster balls, trippy video projections of naked ladies, and so forth, they fell flat, playing the same two blaring, epochal jams they always play -- "Ghost in the Room" and the thrillingly exhausting "Up With People"-- to wan indifference. Not their element.
Ah, but this. This is their element. The closer you can get to profusely flailing drummer Kid Millions, the better. Here, when the expanded five-man lineup kicks into "Ghost," a dense and surprisingly well-mixed maelstrom of guitar, organ, drums, and occasional howling vocals, it's both thrilling and overwhelming -- there's a red-headed kid on a bearded dude's shoulders looking away with a really intense expression, and I can't decide whether he's working hard to keep this music out or working hard to hold it all in. Over the course of 10-15 minutes the song slowly dissolves into a slow, narcotizing breakdown, ending in uncharacteristic near-silence, the usual street chatter finally overtaking it.
Not that everyone goes this route -- an hour later hedonistic art-punkers Golden Triangle ("trashy music to get naked by," as a wise man once put it) are thrashing about, two dueling female vocalists banging tambourines and snarling into mics that distort their voices into grimy vapor; the set ends with nearly everyone in the band flat on their backs, flopping about semi-orgiastically. Which is great, too. Oneida is just a touch more demure, but "Up With People" this time out is a killer nonetheless, a psych-prog pep-talk marathon that thoroughly rouses a crowd of people who spend an awful lot of time pretending not to be roused. Behind the stage, I turn around at one point and see the bearded dude again, now jumping up and down, the redheaded kid on his shoulders smiling maniacally. We are all in our element.
Personal Bias: This about covers it.
The Crowd: More little kids with scooters than you might've guessed.
Random Notebook Dump: Watched a would-be photographer dude nearly break his ankle putting his foot through a blue plastic bucket he intended to use as a stepstool.
Overheard: Oneida is not the sort of band where you're really capable of overhearing anything.