Show Review: The Residents Present Shadowland at the Regency Ballroom, 4/10/2016

by Jonathan Pirro on April 21, 2016

Four decades of experimental musicianship, catalogued onscreen and crammed neatly into a minimalistic trio performance

Randy of The Residents

Randy of The Residents

If you’re an act that’s been around for over 40 years, chances are that there are a few people who have heard of you. You probably have some chart-topping hits, your members are household names, and everyone in the band has been in some scandal or gossipy news story at some point during their career. This is the way of rock music — for everyone, it seems, except for The Residents, who exist as an experimental entity far more than any kind of traditional “band”. Formed in Shreeveport, LA and eventually based in San Mateo, CA, the Residents have managed to remain anonymous for the entirety of their career, and each of their subsequent works takes any previous notions of “what kind of band” they were and throws them bodily out the window. With such a dizzying body of work behind them, it’s never a sure thing what the group will do on each of their tours, and their current magnum opus Shadowland is no exception.

The Residents

The Residents

As opposed to an opening act, the Residents kicked off the evening with a showing of Theory Of Obscurity, a documentary fused together from dozens of accounts by those who knew the band and/or worked closely with them —  never, however, revealing their names or visual identities. Every bit of the Residents’ history, from their rejection letter from Hal Halverstadt, producer for Captain Beefheart, that gave them their name (it was addressed to “The Residents”, and they decided it was the most appropriate label for them thus far) to the Wonder Of Weird tour that celebrated the group’s 40th anniversary, was stuffed into the 90-minute presentation, with accounts of the group’s extensive merchandise catalogue, experimental films, and costume creations told between the stories of the tours and musical performances. The only downer was that the film raised the bar incredibly high for the performance that would follow, especially after seeing some of the more elaborate tours that had transpired in decades past, and the minimalistic nature of the actual show was a great contrast to the sprawling explosion of a film that had preceded it.

Bob, guitarist of The Residents

Bob, guitarist of The Residents

With very little conversation offered to their audience (unlike the extensive banter catalogued in the footage from Wonder Of Weird), the Residents took the stage just after 10:00pm, and offered one of the strangest feats of music ever created by a trio onstage. With vocalist Randy alternating between shouts, screams, and throaty rants, guitarist Bob offering a sonic storm of wahs and shreds, and keyboardist Rico (as Chuck was not currently touring) providing the percussion and backing tracks, the sound that transpired was highly reminiscent of a funhouse orchestra run by Tom Waits and Les Claypool, with many robotic toys manning the tunes. The Residents cranked out a 20-song set that spanned out over the entirety of their career, with small “Shadowland” interludes every four or five songs documenting the experiences of random, fictional individuals who provided their own accounts of the experience of death.

Rico of the Residents

Rico of the Residents

While the show itself was not nearly as cantankerous and prop-filled as many of their previous tours had been (or, had been presented in Theory Of Obscurity), it was clear that the Residents’ focus was far more about the songs performed than the wackiness of the stage show. Randy provided constant entertainment, marching back and forth across the stage in a set of leaps, jumps and jaunts that would please even the most scrutinizing member of the Ministry Of Silly Walks, and even brought out a bass drum for their performance of “Constantinople”. Past his antics, Rico and Bob remained relatively stoic in their positions, occasionally throwing about the dreadlocks of their masks to coincide with the wild sounds churning out from the speakers around them.

Randy on the drum

Randy on the drum

When the show came to an end, it was abrupt and quick; the nearly two-hour set flew past with (aside from the cinematic bits) absolutely no other signs of stopping, and the trio tarried only a few moments before returning to the stage for their encore. Two songs later, the Residents gave their final bows, and departed from the stage for good. The audience, for all of their seemingly soporific appearance, came to life instantly to offer a standing ovation and wild cheers each time — even if this wasn’t the shows of yesteryear, it was definitely something spectacular to all who came to see it.

Randy in his normal mask

Randy in his normal mask

Having previously only caught a small glimpse of the Residents when they opened for Primus a few years back, I had absolutely no idea what to expect with their live show. I ultimately felt a bit underwhelmed, with all of the buildup that had come from the documentary and my own lack of knowledge of their staggering back catalogue, but the Residents absolutely were in their element and surrounded by the people who still supported and gave life to their cause for several decades. If you’re looking to see something truly unique, and odd, in a modern-day musical performance, be sure to catch the Shadowland tour, and come early to witness the full story of the Residents.

Setlist:

  1. Rabbit Habit
  2. Fever Dreams
  3. Golden Guy
    • “The Butcher” movie
  4. Herman, the Human Mole
  5. Harry the Head
  6. Benny (The Bouncing Bump)
    • “The Libertine” movie
  7. They Are the Meat
  8. Caring
  9. Is He Really Bringing Roses?
    • “The Garbage Man” movie
  10. Blue Rosebuds
  11. Weight-Lifting Lulu
  12. Constantinople
    • “The Diver” movie
  13. Easter Woman
  14. My Second Wife
  15. Loss of Innocence
    • “The Engineer” movie
  16. Melon Collie Lassie
  17. Hard and Tenderly
  18. Ship of Fools

Encore:

  1. Mourning Glories
  2. Forty-Four No More

Additional photos from the show below. All photos are © 2016 Jonathan Pirro.

 

Jonathan Pirro

Off-kilter multimedia enthusiast.

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