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The Residents: Welcome to the House of Fun

Updated: Mar 30, 2019

Łażnia Nowa, Krakow, 5/5/10

Trudging through the rain, a particularly grim introduction to summer 2010; an obscure theatre in Nowa Huta, a nameless street somewhere in Krakow’s industrial outskirts. An inauspicious setting for a concert. And yet, how apt a setting for this band. The Residents: ring any bells? No, thought not. Would you be surprised to hear they started when the Beatles were making Abbey Road? How did they manage to slip under your radar for..well your whole life? The answer to that question may lie in their willful rejection of publicity and refusal to play live shows for years on end, only to re-surface in masks and costumes and with pseudonyms. Who are The Residents? No one knows. Even in this Internet age. There are whispers and rumours, but for forty years this band of oddballs has kept their identity a zealously-guarded secret. They never do interviews, and we don’t even know much about where and when they started, except from Louisiana at some point in the late 60s. Influences? Think Ken Kesey’s Magic Bus, Naked Lunch, early Pink Floyd, Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa, perfectly formed in a time-capsule and somehow magically transported to the 21st century and you’re getting close. So, what to expect from a Resident’s Concert? The 100zł ( €25) entrance fee would suggest quite a lot. The new Residents show is called "Talking Light." Here's how they describe the concept:

The story of the Talking Light piece is basically that of an older man who questions, not only decisions he made as a teenager, but also if the events he remembers from that time happened at all. A dead infant clutching a ring with an inscription the teenager cannot read is the stuff of dreams. The following stories in the show may or may not shed light on the inscription. Questions remain unanswered. The Residents study death, not as a horrific end, but as the ultimate question that we all ask while wondering if any of it is even real.

So, we expect acid-induced weirdness. The band’s trademark costumes of top-hats and large eyeballs for heads have been replaced. With the lead singer – “Randy”, cunningly dressed up as, erm, an old man (in clown’s shoes, white tights, bath robe and outlandish red tie), and the keyboard player, “Chuck” and guitarist “Bob” masquerading as Rastafarian aliens, they seem to have lost none of their trademark bizarreness. Erstwhile Mexican drummer “Carlos” was excused from being present as he had gone back to Tiijuana to look after his mother. Did he ever exist outside of the Resident’s private universe? Who knows, and frankly, who cares. The backdrop for the performance was a gloomy front room, replete with tatty couch and TV screen; Randy ranted his song-stories from front stage while the be-wigged bandmates lounged around, hammering out a cacophony of noise which at times approximated to music.

“We’re going to tell you a few stories tonight…and some of them are a little C..R..E..E…P……Y!” Randy intoned in his southern (put-on?) drawl, a little menacingly, though to comic effect (I think), before, launching into a tale about a baby with supernatural powers who burnt his mother when she tried to touch him; something else followed about graveyards, and then an upbeat ditty about his mother, who ended her days in a nasty accident under a pot of boiling water. Something about burying somebody underneath the wide open prairie. God only knows who or why. The set drifted on and on, and the crowd, seated, gazed on, stupefied – some of them giggling, the rest either bemused, confused or crapping themselves. One or two hopefully tapping their feet, in search of a tune. Surprisingly young – in the States, I would wager, no one would be under 50. Here, very few were over 35. Various grotesque characters appeared, projected onto circular screens above the band’s heads, relating/confessing things that you might hear on a psychiatrist’s couch. Songs were interspersed with the singer’s rambling thoughts: “I believe in ghosts! They are underneath my bed”, before relating a tale of a colleague who fell off a construction site scaffold and who visits him when he stands in high places “like the Grand Canyon and The Eiffel Tower”, beckoning him to throw himself off.

Later: “Beware the mirror people! My wife’s one and she wants to be me!” before telling all and sundry how petrified he is to look into the mirror– all of which would suggest a frankly alarming descent into senility, or even madness, were it not for the fact that the Residents have been giving the same kind of schtick since, one would presume, their early twenties. Is the joke, then, on us? How very post-modern that would be. And these guys, if anyone, are post-modern. In fact, they are pretty much post-everything. It would be facile to refer to the whole spectacle as "Lynchian," mostly because The Residents have been mining a very similar kind of surrealism to David Lynch's since way before Eraserhead. But what the hell: I’ll be facile - the Talking Light stage show is like being trapped in (and mesmerized by) a version of the bunny people sitcom in Inland Empire, with a little late-period Beckett thrown in for good measure. You feel dirty and voyeuristic, and the whole cranky, deranged old-man schtick was always seconds away from turning into a creepy tableau vivant of Paul McCarthy sculpture. So, what to take away from a performance – and this was a performance, rather than a concert – like this? Unless you are heavily into American psychedelia, arguably very little. For me, this concert could not end soon enough, and when it did I went straight to the bar and stayed there for a very long time. However, pondering the band’s continued existence got me thinking what it is that they mean to people: turning to a drunken fan at the bar, he looked at me and cried “David Lynch! You are David Lynch! Look at your hair!” before turning to some unfortunates and boring them for the next several hours. Maybe he was one of the band members. People eh, you just can’t account for them.

Photos: Jamie Howard


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