The Residents

The first concert I saw after moving to the San Francisco Bay Area was Primus at the Bottom of the Hill Club. Aptly enough, the second concert I saw last night was The Residents at the Fillmore Theatre. As is generally well-known, The Residents have had a significant influence on the music of Primus, and both of them are among my favourite bands. After seeing them live, all I can say is that Les Claypool of Primus must've liked them a lot, particularly the Duck Stab album.

The music of The Residents, as any fan knows, borders on the indescribable. But if I had to think of one word to describe it, it would be: "kitchen-sink". Combine the noise of John Cage, the industrial sounds of Throbbing Gristle, the psychedelia of Pink Floyd, the acid jazz sounds so famous in the San Francisco Bay Area, and you might just begin to arrive at a reasonable description. The Residents are truly avant garde artists, making music that has never been made before.

But for all the atonality and the cacophony, The Residents show a remarkable pop sensibility. From the simple riff in The Gingerbread Man to songs like Lottie The Human Log, the compositions all display a underlying catchiness, which, in my opinion, accounts for whatever commercial successes they have had. The production, of the live shows and the albums, is impeccable, and the quality of the equipment used is state-of-the-art. The underlying compositions are also fairly simple, but The Residents mutate and disfigure the song to a point where it borders on the abrasive.

That pretty much also describes the visual part of the show. Three of the members were masked, and the lead Resident had on a really cool skull-mask (apt for Halloween) whose mouth moved as he sang. The skull mask has replaced the traditional eyeball since the eyeball was stolen years ago. The images projected on the globes on either side of the stage were captivating, and again showed an understanding of the pop sensibility, while at the same time not being too comfortable.

Unfortunately, The Residents did not play a lot of their old stuff. Their set consisted of two parts, with the first containing Jambalaya and then moving on to songs from The Gingerbread Man (including The Aging Musician, The Old Woman, and The Sold-Out Artist) and songs from The Freak Show. For the second half, they played Disfigured Night, leading on to, and suitably massacring, We Are The World. Followed that up with Hello Skinny and ended with It's a Man's World. Somewhere in there was Lottie the Human Log and Ugly Liberation. For the encore, all we had was a glimpse of The Residents in their traditional eyeball costumes, which drew huge amounts of applause from the crowd.

The little child who played the role of The Gingerbread Man in the show was a nice touch, which provided for a bit of a connection between the band (which seemed detached from the music and the theatrics) and the audience. The visual part of the show perfectly complimented the music. The Residents have had a tremendous impact on my own musical growth, and as far as I was concerned, seeing them was seeing history in the making.

Music ram-blings || Ram Samudrala || || October 30, 1997