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Thursday, Feb. 25, 2010

The Residents @ Turner Hall

Feb. 16, 2010

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You’ve got to admire the aura The Residents have created for themselves. Through tight-lipped secrecy and obfuscating layers of mythology and misinformation surrounding the band’s roots and personnel, The Residents occupy a position of mystery virtually unparalleled in the history of popular music. When you’re dealing with a group whose albums sound like missives from an alternate dimension, the prospect of a live show can’t help but prompt some wild speculation. Was it to be a rock show? Performance art? Perhaps there would be men in suits with eyeballs for heads, or was that indelible image already too predictable for a group as elusive as this one? Best to simply expect the unexpected.

And it was exactly the unexpected that transpired. Onstage sat a facsimile of an average living room complete with couch, tables and faux fireplace. Into these domestic environs strode the group, lead singer “Randy” occupying center stage in a bathrobe and boxer shorts together with a bald cap and grotesque old-man makeup, flanked on the far left and right by “Chuck” on keyboards and “Bob” on guitar, both looking positively inhuman in dark, reflective, full-body suits. Fourth member “Carlos” had retired, Randy said. “Fuck Carlos,” he later added.

We were invited into The Residents’ home so they could “sing a few songs and tell a few stories,” which perfectly encapsulates the show’s mixture of straightforward music performance and drama theatrics. The song selection drew heavily on more recent material, eschewing the outré cover songs and claustrophobic keyboards that marked classic albums like The Third Reich ’N Roll and Commercial Album in favor of airier soundscapes, full of ringing guitar, extended tones from the keys, and often surprising textures. Occasionally, though, they kicked up the volume and played what sounded like the disturbed mutant cousin of some more familiar riff-heavy guitar rock.

Their current national tour has been dubbed “The Talking Light” tour, presumably in reference to the three circular screens suspended above the band, onto which were projected a periodic series of films with distorted close-ups of strange characters telling macabre personal tales about fear, neuroses and violence.

Taken together, this carnivalesque hodgepodge of music, props, films and lights became more than the sum of its parts; it was an entire twisted world brought vividly to life for two solid hours. Funny, mesmerizing and at times genuinely unsettling, the performance came off like the stage version of some lost David Lynch movie. With The Residents, like with Lynch, one feels compelled to include a cautionary “it’s not for everyone” to the uninitiated, but those willing to surrender to their singularly surreal vision, to delve into something so unfamiliar and more than a little menacing, will undoubtedly find an abundance of strange pleasures.

Photo by Dale Reince

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