Who goes out on a Monday night (holiday notwithstanding) to see The Residents? A quick visual survey of the Cedar Cultural Center revealed the answer. There were teeners, seniors, and all in-betweeners. They wore leather, leopard skin and lace; Levi’s and low-risers; flannel and faux fur; Carhart and Calvin Klein. Dreadlocks and ducktails, pompadours and pony tails, baldies and bangs were scattered throughout the crowd. We saw piercings, smelled patchouli and heard other languages. Some were stoned, some shit-faced, some sober. So what was the unifying characteristic of this community? In a word: curiosity. What’s the deal with these three dudes and what kind of shit are they going to pull this time?
The weirdness started early, before The Residents even took the stage, with suitably strange ambient music being played over the house PA system. The inflatable stage backdrop (pictured above) featured smiling snowman and Santa figures, holding up massive candy canes, propping up The Residents banner. Of course! Makes perfect (non)sense, for mid-February!
Although it was rumored that The Residents (frontman/vocalist Randy, guitarist Bob and synth player Chuck) would be unmasked for this 40 Years of Weirdness Tour, they took the stage in full costume and remained that way all night. Frontman Randy (last names are never given – and who knows if the first names are their real ones) was resplendent in his open-front Santa suit (revealing a series of tear-off T-shirt/bibs underneath), oversized boots and hook-nosed/bald pate half mask. Randy doesn’t so much sing as chant over Bob’s distorted guitar work, Chuck’s synthesizer, and whatever taped tracks get looped into the mix. In this respect, a case can be made for him being a rap pioneer.
Chuck came out in a multi-hued orange sweat suit, with full be-goggled and dreadlocked black head mask. Bob was the most sartorially impressive of the trio, sporting white tails fringed in gold lame, atop his black tuxedo slacks, also in full black mask with insect-like feelers protruding randomly. True to form, neither Chuck nor Bob spoke a word all night.
The Residents’ music never shifts into high gear, favoring instead mid-tempo rhythms that compliment the industrial/metal sounds produced by Chuck and Bob. Unlike their previous visit, this was not a multi-media event, with the only visuals being those provided by the band members and their bizarre backdrop. The Residents’ opening track,”Picnic In The Jungle,” was surprisingly accessible and could easily be added to a DJ’s house music playlist.
Randy stepped out of character frequently during the first half of the show, introducing songs and giving background information on the band and its history. Of course, that assumes that one could believe everything he said, even the believable stuff. For example, introducing the next song, “Santa Dog,” Randy noted that it was written in 1972 for Snakefinger (a fellow traveler from the Bay Area). “We sent it to The Beatles, Black Sabbath, even NIXON! I wanted to GIVE IT to someone else, but no one would take it!” Truth or myth? Does it really matter?
During Bob’s guitar solo on the next number, Randy walked over to stage left, pulled something – a cell phone? – out of his pocket, looked distressed, put it back in and returned to center stage, rubbing his head in a worrisome manner. The cause of the distress would be revealed later, after the shtick was repeated a couple more times during the course of the evening. A song about “a confused transsexual” was followed by Randy’s comment that “one of the great things about being a rock star is all the blow jobs,” as a way of saluting their tour manager of the past 28 years “who lines up all the babes for us.”
After leaving the stage momentarily while Chuck and Bob carried on, Randy returned to talk about the various costumes the band had worn over the years. The iconic Residents’ headpiece is the top-hatted eyeball. A couple of folks in the audience even had large, inflatable eyeballs on hand, which they raised on cue as Randy noted the problem with the original design: “you couldn’t see out of it and you couldn’t breathe.” Picky, picky, picky!
The Residents’ song material is as bizarre as the band is visually, with “Touch Me” being introduced by Randy as “a song about an individual in a co-dependent relationship with a giant, and they’re into rough sex.” Its jungle-like rhythm got the crowd bobbing and swaying in time, as Randy prowled the stage moving (you couldn’t really call his exaggerated hand and arm gestures “dancing”) to the beat.
More of the same odd behavior followed, as Randy moved stage right this time, once again digging something out of his Santa suit and contemplating it with an anguished look on his face. Returning center stage, Randy began free-associating (perhaps “continued” free-associating is a better way to describe it), this time digressing into a lament about a friend, Philip Linman (?), a member of The Vestal Virgins, who died in 1987. He sank into his chair onstage, as Chuck and Bob revved up the heavy metal-sounding “The Man In The Dark Sedan.” Fully animated now, Randy began ranting about how down on their luck the band is: “Chuck lives on a goddam CHICKEN FARM; Bob, nobody knows what the fuck he does! My life partner is a CAT!” On and on about how his agent got him the part of the donkey in Shrek, “But that asshole Eddie Murphy stole my part, then my wife, Sheena, left me . . .” At which point he left the stage again and we all looked at each other quizzically.
Returning slowly to the stage following another slow-core interlude by Chuck and Bob, Randy seemed to have it together, and started talking about the “Freak Show” album and DVD for sale at the merch table when – here it comes again! – more diatribe spewed forth! This time, he spoke about obsession: “It’s like a whirlpool, with a bear trap at the bottom; it happened to me 11 times and I married every one of them!” Whaaa? More random talk about his breakdown, traveling to Hot Springs, Arkansas for mud baths and crystal-gazing, becoming obsessed with porn websites, . . . You had to have been there. No, wait. Being there would not have helped.
Suddenly, the Santa/snowman set began deflating. Randy’s cell phone rang (loudly, over the PA system), he answered it and “Scooter” on the other end, tells him that he needs to come home because his cat/life partner “Maurice” has been hit by a car. This brings forth more bad memories, of The Residents’ first tour of Europe: “we had 2 vans, 16 people, and we lost EVERYTHING!” One last song about “marching to the sea,” as – what’s this? – a huge Christmas tree began inflating stage right, bedecked with the iconic top hat-sporting eyeball!
With the sad remnants of their original stage backdrop behind them, The Residents gathered around the tree in silent adoration, as “Auld Lang Syne” played over the PA system. Then, with no further ado, they slowly walked offstage. The house lights went up and the bewildered crowd filed out, to the strains of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.”
As we left, I spotted a middle-school aged child walking out with his too-hip parents. The Missus and I looked at each other and nodded knowingly. That child will never be normal.