The Residents, like Steely Dan, always seemed more comfortable in a recording studio than a concert stage during their first decades together. By the time of their twentieth anniversary they’d only hit the road three times. This week’s show at the El Rey was their third Los Angeles appearance in as many years, and if the sparse, even cheap-looking visual presentation for this fortieth anniversary Wonder Of Weird Tour was any indication, they really need the money. They’ve already put their entire catalog on the market with a $100,000 Ultimate Box Set packed in a refrigerator, as well as a $5 Million “mystery package” whose contents have not been specifically revealed, though it’s been strongly hinted by representatives of the Cryptic Corporation that it might contain the ownership rights to the contents of said refrigerator. Until a couple of deep-pocketed buyers miraculously appear, like everyone else nowadays, they’ve got to stop depending on making money from recordings and take the band on the road if they want to pay the rent.
However Randy, the band’s gregarious lead singer, claims not to be in it for the money, but more essential things. “One of the best things about being a, ahem, rock star on the road, is of course – the BJs! Boy, I tell you friends there’s nothing like a beer and a good backstage BJ!” Pointing to the t-shirt he was wearing beneath his decrepit-looking Santa suit with a picture of their road manager on it, he instructed all the hot chicks in the audience who might want to, you know, go out to the bus after the show and have some fun, to seek the guy out. Later in the show, he disappeared for several minutes before wandering back out, disoriented and unresponsive. Evidently, one of those hot chicks had gotten to him before the show had even ENDED. Now that’s rock and roll.
Full review and photo gallery after the break.
Rock and roll in the presence of the Residents, however, requires a healthy shot of ironic displacement. They resemble a rock band in some ways but they’re really not one. At times they seem to be art freaks making fun of a rock band. Or maybe they ARE a rock and roll band that happens to embrace freedom more completely than most. Classic songs like “Satisfaction” and “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World” become weapons their hands, though I didn’t notice them doing any covers tonight, focusing instead on their own compositions. While sonically they seem to have no blues roots, and their melodies are often dissonant to the point of anxiety-provoking, they’re also tuneful, while the lyrics tend toward sing-songy rhymes straight out of Dr. Seuss. They’re outsiders who have stuck around long enough that they now seem familiar, it seems like everyone’s seen the eyeball head outfits or heard the likes of Les Claypool shouting their praises.
Their live performance setup for the last few years has remained the same, with the three members – only recently introduced by the names Randy, Chuck and Bob, with fourth member Carlos said to be in retirement – adding live vocals, keyboards and guitar, respectively, to prerecorded backing tapes. Most of their previous tours focused on a theatrical presentation of their newest work, but for this retrospective show, they eschewed sets, dancers, and video screens and just played their songs. They also skipped most of their best known material, and transformed the few crowd pleasers in the set (including early singles “Santa Dog” and “Loser =~ Weed”) so radically, it was impossible to tell they were being played without paying careful attention to the lyrics. They spent a good amount of time talking about early collaborator Philip “Snakefinger” Lithman and played two songs they’d written for his first album. And they did a lot of songs neither my companion or I, both long time listeners if not obsessives, could pinpoint.
But it was always evident we were listening to the Residents, their particular combination of humor, beauty and terror remains singular. If it wasn’t their most elaborately staged or conceptually advanced live show, it was still a chance to revel in the weirdness of old friends and hopefully keep the lights at Cryptic Corporation on a little longer.
All photos by Bob Lee for the Los Angeles Beat.