Photos by Amanda Farah
The Residents have remained a mystery for 40 years now, with a back-catalogue that makes the Fall look like lazy in comparison. Their appearance is always an event, gathering together misfits of all ages and backgrounds, and today it is preceded by an interview at the Main Library. Three masked figures, two of them looking not altogether dissimilar to the Spirit of Jazz from the Mighty Boosh, sit menacingly in the candlelight as their spokesperson answers questions with witty evasions.
The three weirdos looming over this conversation are known Randy, Chuck and Bob, and the album they are presenting, “Shadowlands”, is the last in a trilogy they have named after themselves. After the departure of “Carlos”–ostensibly to run a chicken farm in Mexico (the spokesperson assures us it is “more of a metaphorical chicken farm”–the band began to attach names to themselves, replacing the obscurity of anonymity with that of personal narratives.
There is definitely some kind of narrative at work at their concert, where old re-worked favourites like “Constantinople” and “Blue Rosebud” are intercut with video segments. This is not so much a retrospective as a re-presentation of material which has always sounded outside of its own time. The sound can sometimes veer towards the cheesy–particularly with the tinny, hyper-effected guitar solos–but if anything this heightens the weirdness, highlights just how out of place the band really is.
With a backdrop of optical illusions and a looming giant balloon that functions as projector screen, the band’s bizarre outfits pop out with such hyper-reality that you might convince yourself that they themselves are illusions. To some extent, of course, that is true. You’ll notice, for example, that the figure of ‘Randy’, half crazed scientist, half psychopathic magician, is considerably more portly on stage than he was during the pre-show interview. Many internet theorists posit that the man hollering on stage is in fact the same Homer Flynn that presented himself as “spokesperson” for the band only an hour ago.
But that is an altogether too probable explanation. If you need to speculate as to who the Residents really are, you are better off going for the wildly improbable (I have heard everyone from David Byrne and Paul McCartney). You could pin them down, categorize them, name them, but then what would remain?