ONEIDA with the CONSTANTINES , KINSKI and OAKLEY HALL as part of the Three Gut Records Anniversary bash at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Saturday (August 20). $15. 416-532-1598, www.threegutrecords.com. Rating: NNNNN
The psych-rock savants in Brooklyn-based Oneida are just as adept at lacing interviews with bullshit as they are at cranking out krautrock-tinged hallucinatory freakouts onstage. So when keyboardist Bobby Matador tells me that he and bandmates Kid Millions and Hanoi Jane have just followed up an evening of urban pool-hopping (their favourite pastime) by driving by the Arkansas headquarters of Wal-Mart, where the parking lot alone is big enough to hold nearly a dozen regular Wal-Mart stores, I'm pretty sure I'm being taken for a ride.
Sure enough, Bobby fesses up to the fiblet, but not without giving me a brief lesson on the proper etiquette for telling tale tales.
"You can't just make up a lie; there has to be an element of factual truth in it. The factual truth is that we went pool-hopping last night, and the factual truth is that it's 98 degrees here and we're sweating buckets.
"We've told tons of lies, all of which I maintain are truth to my dad, and nobody else knows they're not true," he pauses. "Well, except for my mom. We pretend that there used to be another member of the band. We thought it'd give Oneida a sense of gravitas, like we'd been around for a while and had some history."
Oh, and Bobby, Kid and Jane really are trying to get on the interstate somewhere in Rodgers, Arkansas, after having played a satisfying show in Memphis, but the Wal-Marts there are still normal-sized. Just so you know.
That "mythical" fourth member, on the other hand, is Papa Crazy, who actually left the band almost four years ago to play with his own freak-country outfit, Oakley Hall. The split was quite amicable, and Papa and his band will join Oneida at Lee's on Saturday to help celebrate the anniversary/final hurrah of local indie Three Gut Records (see sidebar).
Since Papa split, the ridiculously prolific trio have released a string of boundary-pushing records, each one a leap from the last. From the sludgy aggro noise of 2001's Anthem Of The Moon (Jagjaguwar), they jumped to a double-disc wallop of extended psych-rock epics and primal synth incantations with 2002's Each One Teach One. Then, on 2004's Secret Wars - their first disc to be released in Canada on Three Gut - Oneida refined their electro-jolted jams with a spazzy, shimmery krautrock sheen. And with this year's The Wedding (Three Gut), the fellas serve up a master mindfuck by marrying pristine string sections (courtesy of Kid's childhood pal and Fireworks Ensemble honcho Brian Coughlin) to their experimental pop breakdowns. The songs are way more melodic and easily digestible, which probably pisses off avant-rock snobs, but the arrangements are as unconventional as they are delightfully dreamy. No simplistic 1-4-5 lily-gilding here; opening track The Eiger features percussive bass grunts and violins playing syncopated counterpoint to the measured 4/4 cadence of the lyrics.
I notice a fleeting reference to Edelweiss on The Eiger, which, when combined with the surreal 40s-style waltz of Know, makes me feel like I've fallen into a parallel Sound Of Music universe. Could it be that the members of Oneida are closet Julie Andrews fans?
"That wasn't intentional, but I can definitely guarantee you that we collectively and individually have hard-ons for The Sound Of Music and musicals in general," Bobby proudly proclaims. "You know, the golden age of Hollywood musicals from the 40s and 50s - Guys And Dolls is one of my favourite movies of all time, and I'll bet Kid was listening to The Sound Of Music at some point during the recording process."
It's entirely possible, since the seeds of The Wedding were actually planted during a random car trip before the guys even made Each One Teach One. Bobby and Kid were listening to the baroque stylings of 60s popsters the Left Banke's Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina album while driving to Connecticut, and decided to make a similar album as a lark.
It's tricky to play The Wedding songs live sans string ensemble and, Bobby claims, a bit scary, since these tracks are "more vulnerable and naked" than the stoner-friendly psych-outs Oneida are accustomed to playing. He will, however, suggest the sorts of feelings that should be triggered by listening to Oneida's songs.
"People should have those hallucinations where they think they understand everything about their lives and the world. After the album's over, you'll realize you're fucked up and miserable and don't know where you're going in life, but for the 40 minutes or so that you're listening, you should have it all figured out. It'd be pretty cool if we could inspire some revelation of truth.
"That, or the hallucination that we're a really good band."