The Residents rock theatrical show in Somerville

A review of The Residents at the Somverille Theatre on March 30,2011

, Contributing Writer

The Residents have never really put on a show, at least the way most bands do. Maybe the kind of show that would come to mind when thinking about Broadway, but even then, its much darker and though theatrical not nearly as precise as musical theater. Instead, The Residents operate in their own world, a kind of spontaneous, dark musical carnival. The band, which is really more of a collective, handles all their business operations themselves and strives to focus as much on the visuals of the show as the music. It was all on full display when the veteran band played the Somervile Theatre last Wednesday.

There are currently three members of the onstage part of The Residents (Carlos recently departed the band). Randy, who on this night was dressed up in a bathrobe, tie and old man mask, acts as the character of the show, alternating between story-telling, shout-singing and a series of bizarre movements including manic arm-swinging and hopping around the stage. The two musicians, keyboardist Bob and guitarist Chuck, each took a back corner of the stage and stood or sat, quietly playing their respective instruments in their costumes that looked like a cross between a dreadlocked skeleton and the minions from Despicable Me. In amongst the three were props, a couch, a tv tuned to static, and a fireplace.

Recently, the band has incorporated more and more long-form stories into their sets. One of those, “The Talking Light,” a gruesome story of a baby left abandoned in a rural mansion, featured a projection on the back screen of Randy in some kind of putty mask narrating the tale. Later on, during the epic, multi-part story “The Mirror People” a woman with unusually large eyes was projected onto the same screen and talked about the death of her husband, getting beaten by her mother-in-law and learning to sleep 24 hours a day. In “The Unseen Sister,” another projection-heavy story, featured a woman smoking a cigarette and calmly recounting the various horrific acts her invisible sister coerced her into doing. At the end, as an after-thought, the woman mentioned that among other horrors she “also had a goldfish that died”. While recounting the “The Mirror People”, Randy noted that his wife was a mirror person, which was why he now slept in the garage. With all these violent and disturbing stories, The Residents ability to intersperse some humor during the show came as a welcomed relief.

For the more song-oriented part of the set, The Residents pulled mostly from newer material off their albums from the last decade or so. “Six More Miles (to the graveyard)” featured their signature brand of dark freakout mixed with a little bit of a western feel. If nothing else, The Residents are masters of genre hopping and mixing. Throughout the show they managed to squeeze in creepy Carnival, Industrial, Tom Waits-pastiche, Harry Partch style atonality and even a little Trip-hop for good measure. They’re at their best when mixing these genres simultaneously, and the songs that tended to stick too much with one style or another tended to be the ones that fell a little flat.

For close to 40 years they have mined this territory, and it’s safe to say that they have honed in on their strengths over the years. These days, The Residents put on quite the concise and direct set, and maybe that’s the problem. Not that the shows aren’t still good, and certainly the offer something that no other group offers, but just as it said in their program notes, “sometimes they think they have become frighteningly similar to the Fabulous Bleeps” a band The Residents “admire for their failures” and “staggering band-ness”. Not that The Residents have fallen into that category of “just another band,” but maybe after all these years unpredictability has become a little predictable.

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