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Shake Appeal

Detroit's the Sights and New York's Oneida Share a Yen for the Road and the Blistering Live Show

By Chris Handyside | Posted 3/12/2003

"Garage rock is such a lame-ass term," says the Sights' guitarist, singer, and principal songwriter, Eddie Baranek. "The Sights play rock 'n' roll. I write pop songs. I don't write garage-rock anthems. We practice in my basement and know what an A major seventh is."

The amount of ink spilled over the last year about rock's so-called rebirth is enough to make anyone want to shred every two-bit music rag in sight. Everywhere you turned, rock 'n' roll McMansions were being built on the freshly bulldozed land where the shantytowns of the indie fringe once stood. And while the hype machine worked itself up into a lathering shit-storm over three chords and a couple choruses, there were dozens of musical outfits out there working dive bars and hinterland music halls creating interesting ways for rock to find its way out of the garage.

Both Detroit's the Sights and Brooklyn, N.Y.'s Oneida bear gifts born in garage/basement labs and polished on the road. Both bands play music that springs from the three-practices-a-week, don't-spare-the-intoxicants ethos that has made great rock for decades. And better still, these are people who are absolute freaks about music. They're not afraid to experiment upon themselves and their sacred cows, and it's refreshing to see that the results can be so raw and hip-shaking.

The Sights are a quintessentially shaggy quartet fronted by the blond-haired, doe-eyed, and singularly talented 21-year-old Baranek. The band--Baranek, drummer Dave Shettler, bassist Matt Hatch, and organist Nate Cavalieri--eschews humility in favor of Humble Pie riffage, unafraid to get a little Nazz on its collective jeans or cram a handful of influences into a 10-minute guitar workout.

Their cocksure swagger has been bolstered by the gushing accolades slathered on their sophomore release, 2002's Got What We Want (Fall of Rome Records), from the same British press that launched their neighbors the White Stripes to "It" band status. But Baranek is quick to dismiss such easy genre pigeonholes.

"After all the hype packs up and goes I will still be around, playing the same bars," he says. "The phrase 'Detroit garage rock' is just lazy journalism at its finest."

In fact, Baranek lists Fiona Apple, the Greenhornes, Neil Young, Georgie Fame, Taj Mahal, "and maybe a little Music Machine" as primary inspirations. "Most of these acts, like Neil Young, have an awkward charm to them," he says. "They don't quite fit the mainstream's expectations and are a bit left of center. That's us."

The attention the Sights are getting isn't going to Baranek's head, either. "Look at me, I'm not a rock star," he says. "I don't walk around like God's gift to rock 'n' roll. You can be rest assured that anyone can do this. That's what the Sights are--the band for the everyman."

Oneida plays the foil to the Sights' everyman rock. Considering the wide-ranging reach this ambitious band has shown over the course of its five full-length releases, the purpose of rock according to Oneida is to make your skin crawl and exorcise demons. Oneida is rock performance as ritual.

"Sheets of Easter," the opening track on Oneida's 2002 Each One Teach One (Jagjaguwar), is a relentless, twitchy 14-minute opus describing what it might sound like if humans got inside robots, gobbled a bunch of speed, and tried to play the Count Five's "Psychotic Reaction" as a two-note symphony. And it's a middle-finger invitation to stick around and see what happens next. It is rock's rudiments further reduced to bare elements, and it has much in common with both kraut-rock icons like Can and the blistering ethos of stoner-rock bands such as Queens of the Stone Age.

Oneida's catalog ventures along tracks of sludgy guitar workouts, straight-up confrontational noise, and headbanging rhythm rock all filtered through an avant-garde and psychedelic sensibilities. Oneida tackles music from the ground up, building its songs from improvisation. And they constantly evolve even after they've been laid on wax.

"On tape we are a little more crafted, but still pretty impulsive," bassist Hanoi Jane says. "We have more opportunity to reconsider a totally self-defeating choice and let the melody shine through, or we can stick with our first idea and step on a moment in the song. We still choose both pretty evenly. I'm just saying that sometimes you hear melodies on our records. Goddamn birdsong."

"I think we fall into the uncompromising bin with people like Pere Ubu, Hawkwind, Can," says drummer and Oneida co-founder Kid Millions. "Those are great bands. I'm not trying to say we're their equals, just saying that we don't compromise and we like to capture each phase of the band because they're fleeting. I would say most of our songs start with improv riffs we repeat ad nauseam until it feels right."

Despite their differences, what these two bands share is a yen for the road. Theirs is a path lined with smoky clubs, house parties, crashing on couches, and on-the-fly van repairs that eat up tour profits. But it's the best place to catch their kind of rock.

"Live, we have a more manic sound," Hanoi Jane says. "We're also incredibly loud, and your stereo just won't turn up that high, I assure you. People seem to love the show. They really freak out. We play 'Sheets of Easter,' and they try to headbang and scream the entire time. Of course, we usually outlast them in that game, but that seems to just make them happier. I love to see how people react. It's even fun when someone hates it."

"When we play live all hell breaks loose," says Baranek, echoing the Oneida fellas. "We just try to put on a loud-ass, sweaty rock 'n' roll show."

Oneida plays the Talking Head March 15 with Neptune, Cutter/Hammer, and Bald Eagle. The Sights play the 9:30 Club March 20 with the Datsuns and the Cassanovas.

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