Quite Possibly the Strangest Band in Rock and Roll

The Residents launch world tour in Surf City

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Josh Keppel
    The Residents brought their new show "Talking Light" to the Rio Theater in Santa Cruz for their debut performance before hitting the road.

    An old man stumbles around a dingy psychedelic living room in a fever dream.

    To either side of him sit strange creatures hunched over their electronic equipment, spidery plastic dreadlocks hanging over big black goggles covering their dim leather faces.

    Behind them flicker discs of light and dark shifting purple shapes. The air fills with the sound of creepy drum machines and circus freak show keyboards.

    A guitar erupts like the scream of a tortured animal. The melody is ugly yet somehow beautiful: a sure sign. This is a Residents show.

    No one knows who The Residents are. No one has ever seen their faces.

    For forty years they have only performed in elaborate, grotesque costumes like giant eyeball heads in dancing tuxedos.

    We don't know exactly how many people are, or have been, in the band. We don't even know their genders.

    But one thing is certain, no other band makes music like theirs.

    The Residents may well be the strangest band in rock and roll. Their history has been one of unrelenting freakishness.

    From their clashing horn sections to Snakefinger's twisty guitar, their albums stand mutated and unique.

    Bowie may have claimed to be from outer space, but it wasn't till I heard songs like “Easter Woman” and “Constantinople” that I realized aliens had actually landed on earth and started making rock and roll.

    Songs like “Blue Rosebuds” can co-mingle lush soundscapes of tranquility and horror all in one five-minute piece of music.

    They have a long list of classic albums such as “The Third Reich And Roll” and “The Commercial Album” which is composed of forty sixty-second songs.

    People like Les Claypool may have covered their songs but no one can sound anything remotely like the Art Brut majesty of the actual band.

    The three piece ensemble that performed at the regal Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz on Saturday night was the most melodic and musical incarnation of the band that I have heard so far.

    While a guitarist and keyboardist with a laptop wove lovely collages of otherworldly sound, the lead singer had a different voice and character for every song.

    Dressed as a decrepit old man, he sang harrowing stories in a voice that could go from a gurgle to a shriek to a growl.

    After starting with a song from “Demons Dance Alone,” they went thorough a semi-retrospective of their entire career.

    It was hard to tell because many of their songs were presented in versions so radically different from the originals that they'd be halfway through a tune before you recognized even a familiar one.

    This complete reinvention of their songbook was one of the show's strong suits.

    Sometimes two or three songs were mashed together into one huge psychedelic suite that was staggering in its intensity.

    Songs could launch from places of celestial calm to pure avant-garde excess in a matter of seconds.

    They did a masterful “Gingerbread Man” and a chillingly haunted version of “Six More Miles to the Graveyard.”  The orchestral “Semolina” was a particular standout.

    The music was dense and complex, and almost every song took you to a trippy lysergic place of ultimate unease.

    But these fearful emotions were fed to you with a lush sonic poetry that was, at times, breathtaking.

    Few things in life have moved me as much as The Residents' music. They sing about the dark places with melodies beautiful and strange.