At the Rickshaw Theatre on Saturday, March 19
After 40 years of delivering some of the most screwed up soundscapes the rock and avant-garde worlds have ever heard, one thing was certain while the crowd waited for the Residents to turn up on-stage at the Rickshaw: we were expecting something exceptionally weird to happen. Ever the showmen, the group did not disappoint, offering up a nearly two-hour multimedia musing on ghost stories and the ravages of old age.
For some, one of the night’s many surprises might have included the band’s attire. Long-gone were the infamous eyeball masks that obscured their identities in the past. For the record, their new getups still keep their civilian lives a secret. The first Resident to take the darkened stage, “Chuck”, shuffled slowly to his computer-and-keyboard setup wearing a shimmering, crimson-sequined jacket and a dreadlock-strewn balaclava. Opening up his laptop, you could see the computer mirrored brilliantly in his industrial goggles. A doppelgí¤nger soon crept up to a guitar rig and promptly sat down on a stool. That’d be “Bob”. The singer, identified for the purposes of this performance as “Randy”, strolled up in an open bathrobe, boxer shorts, and a wrinkled-old-man mask as an uncomfortably warped version of “Home! Sweet Home!” warbled in the background. Standing in front of a set-piece fireplace with a TV projecting snow onto the hearth, he welcomed the crowd into the Residents’ “living room,” but warned that the events of the night wouldn’t exactly be relaxing.
“Some of these stories are kind of spooky,” he cackled before the trio eased into the altogether horrifying ghost tale “Talking Light”. Ambient synths swelled ominously as Randy began the terrifying tale, which finds a lonely teenager faced with the task of finding a missing child in an abandoned shack, only to have to bury the tot’s skeleton. Bob unfurled a series of minor-key guitar solos to underscore the eeriness of the psychotic piece while Randy coughed up the kind of decayed vocal gurglings usually reserved for recent slasher victims. The rest of the evening followed suit, with Randy dishing in between songs about the spectres that haunt him, like the late construction worker Red, who wants the singer to plunge to his death the same way he did.
“The Unseen Sister” jacked up the multimedia element of the group’s performance. Randy picked up a projector from his recliner, turned away from the crowd, and presented footage of a woman talking about her deceased mother onto three circular screens that stood behind the band. A particularly unsettling moment had the lady talking about the time she surprised her mother in the kitchen, only to have the matriarch tumble towards the stove and topple a hot pot of Christmas-tree-shaped pasta onto herself. The image of the mother shrieking at her daughter as the dinner boiled and gnarled her face was almost as disturbing as the excruciatingly loud tribal beats that pounded along to Bob’s shred-fest of shiver-inducing dive bombs and lightning-quick hammer-ons.
While the Residents’ latest stage show focuses on their most recent tales from the crypt, the night did offer long-time fans a couple of older gems. Buster & Glen favourite “Semolina” was played early on, but was presented much differently than it was back in the ’70s. Forsaking the minimalist new-wave-meets-the-Bonanza-theme-song style of the original, the tune played out busily as Chuck applied a frantic mid-’90s jungle rave beat mid-song. Randy, however, still alternated between a helium-voiced Mickey Mouse and a gravel-throated western thug for his parts. “Lillie”, from 1990’s Freak Show, began with a cutesy carnival melody but things got sinister super quick. Randy, taking on the role of an old lady “blacking out the specks of decent thoughts” left in her, placed a doily on his head and assumed a demon’s growl as the song exploded into a crunchy, foundation-shaking industrial death march. “Make me dirty, please,” he howled as he made a lewd gesture or two.
Following a few more postmodern ambient murder ballads, the group cued up the Ghost Busters theme song, gave us a bow and left the bewildered but enraptured Rickshaw crowd.
Truthfully, just like Ray Parker Jr., I ain’t afraid of no ghosts. The Residents, on the other hand, are a different story altogether.