The evening started with a movie, The Theory of Obscurity. A documentary on The Strangest Band on Earth, the beloved Residents with a bunch of very interesting musicians (Les Claypool from Primus, Chris Cutler…) and the guys from the Cryptic Corporation participating. For People who don’t know them, well, it’s a long story to tell. I won’t be the one telling you about their 40 year-career. There are many experts that can handle that… although there isn’t any truth in anything you’ll hear about The Residents. Who they are, we don’t care. It might not be the same guys album after album for that matter. “The Residents are an art form and a concept. You can be in The Residents if your art fits in”, said somebody interviewed in the 2.5 hours movie we watched silently at La Tulipe Theatre, on this nice Spring evening of April 22nd, 2016.

residents theory of obscurity 1

For people who know and appreciate them, a Resident concert is an event! They don’t show up that often, but still, I have managed to see them three times in the last decade: the DVD show Icky Flix in 2001, then in 2010 and in 2011. If I appreciated the first two shows, as the “band” went through many of their career’s highlights, the third one ticked me off. I got rapidly fed up of this sad and aggressive clown, Randy, as his horrible and dark stories were creepy. He kept walking on stage to the beat of the music and shake imaginary water off his hands. I felt The Residents had abandoned their art direction and adopted a horror movie path, which I felt absolutely not compelled to.

My negative review of the show created some arguments within the “Residents community” as you almost cannot criticize this legendary band. Either you look like a guy who never liked The Residents or one who just doesn’t get it. It is “de rigueur” to say things are brilliant when it’s art you don’t understand. Well no. I don’t do that.

I was pretty eager to see what type of Residents show I would attend to, with “Shadowland”. Would I like it? Would I get it? Would the sad clown annoy me for two hours? After seeing him a lot in the movie presented before the show, I wasn’t expecting to be pleased by the show, to be honest. Told my wife : “I might be back in 2 or 4 hours, depending how the show goes. I really want to see the movie, but I’m not sure what the show will be like…”

“Shadowland” is the 3rd part of the Chuck, Randy and Bob trilogy. Death and ghosts were in the first, love and sex in the second and this one is tackling birth, rebirth and near-death experience. “Death – Sex – Birth, life in reverse! Get it?” underlines Randy.

residents live 2016 randy

As I feared, my “beloved” clown picked it up where he had left it, “dancing” all over the stage, playing around with his hands like he’s swimming or moving atoms around, every time he leaves the mic.

How many more times do we need “Randy” do the chicken? This is where I think The Residents have lost their way. From an enigmatic art group they were, they became an “ordinary” band led by a storyteller who has an awful stage presence.

 

Although the guitarist Bob is a great musician, creating moods and a strong canvas, I feel all this had deviated a hell lot since what I appreciated of The Residents: the non-sense, the craziness, the sense of humor (hey remember The Commercial Album), the very strange world they would bring us in on “Not Available” or “Eskimo”. Then, the guys couldn’t really play very well – they admit it – and it wasn’t important. Nowadays, it’s all about Randy’s stories and his dancing moves on stage. I have tried not to look at him and his annoying presence but just had nowhere to go. The music is now too close… to music! Yes, I get that they are creating an ambiance that is special and spooky, but it’s nothing exceptional.

The “Shadowland” show included short video self-portraits of different personas (The butcher, the libertine, the diver…) telling about their life or parts of it. One of them, the engineer, talks about the excitement he gets when thinking of killing a cat with a frying pan, or driving his train so fast he’ll hit another train at full speed… Exploring the deepest deranged thoughts a mind can have… Randy was all happy when the tragedy was about to happen, but so sad when it was avoided… Our angry clown couldn’t help himself and was always trying to “catch” the image of the female personas, like an annoying kid who needs attention. I can’t stand this. What the hell is this?

residents live montreal 2016

I’m watching the guys move their heads on the pounding beat, enjoying the crescendos… They are not going to agree with this review. Call me an old fart that prefers the past to the present, but I can’t help but to miss the crazy, unique, art The Residents used to do.

Playing a few classics like Constantinople (that ended in an angry burst) was somehow more enjoyable, but it also underlined the major gap this trio has versus the “previous”. To me, The Residents have become untrue to their initial goal and artistic direction, at one point. It is nice to re-invent oneself and explore new territories, but the “sad clown” mood has been going on for too long now.

Bring back art!

 

THE RESIDENTS were playing at le Théâtre LaTulipe, in Montreal, on August 22, 2016. A Blue Skies Turn Black presentation.

All photos: Nicolas Pelletier for RREVERB, all rights reserved

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About The Author

Nicolas Pelletier
Fondateur et rédacteur en chef
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Mélomane invétéré et rédacteur agréé, Nicolas pratique la critique en mode olympique: il parle de tout, tout le temps, depuis 1991. Il a publié 4 500 critiques de disques et concerts dont 1100 chez emoragei magazine et 600 sur enMusique.ca, dont il a également été le rédacteur en chef de 2009 à 2014. Nicolas a publié "Les perles rares et les grands crus de la musique" en janvier 2013, un ouvrage de 1250 pages en deux tomes.