The Residents


I came here to review a critically-acclaimed US group who rose to fame in the 1970’s, who appeared in heavy rotation in the early days of MTV, who released over forty albums, nearly as many compilations and created dozens of multimedia projects.

What I am seeing, at a packed, sold out Gorilla, is not what you might therefore expect. The Residents are as “alternative” as it gets; they are weird; they are niche; I would argue they are like nothing else.

This gig is part of their 50th anniversary tour. I’m amazed by how much of what the Residents have done over those 50 years has become so mainstream (in the alternative world, at least). Tonight, we experience discordant weirdness akin to Mr Bungle and Primus; masks to rival Slipknot, Gwar and Insane Clown Posse and just a little taste of the Residents’ pioneering approach to multimedia.

What amazes me is not that all this made it in to the mainstream but that the Residents still seem to be among the most out-there proponents of all of it, five decades on. As the musicians take the stage, we see four figures in bright, diamond-pattern suits, three wearing the masks of Renaissance plague doctors, and one wearing a custom-made bull hat / half-mask. Anonymity has been part of the Residents since day one.

The music gets off to a pretty slow, dirge-y start; the overall tone is heavy-metal meets sinister horror movie soundtrack (oh, the Residents have done some of that, too). It is often black metal in terms of the arrangements, lyrics and delivery. Where else do you find a singer blasting out, in distorted monotone “I want you to die, die, die, fucking die… I want you to die, die like a stranger / I want you to die, die like a rat”?

There is some supremely stadium-metal guitar shredding and at times the whole thing almost comes together into a Metallica-esque totality, yet it’s just one step away: there is polish, no production and no gloss. What we are hearing is the instruments dry and naked as they are played, with no pretension. This prevents me from getting lost in the music and forces me to confront it more.

It’s the antithesis of background, of muzak; it demands your full attention. There are no visuals to distract or to pull the eye and the mind away from the music. The band are not showmen, drawing you into their performance or projecting their manliness; they are simply musicians making music.

That’s not to say it’s all intense, negative, repetitive stuff – far from it. It’s about the fifth tune in when we start to get a flavour of the tribal style beats which are a recurring theme in the Residents recorded music and we get a good dose of humour including covers of James Brown’s’ It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World’ and Elvis Presley’s ‘Teddy Bear’.

For the most part, it is a long way from the Residents’ raucous beginnings; rather it’s a terrifyingly beautiful sunset for the Residents, performed by what is for the most part a cover band (it’s probable that two of the Residents’ four founder members left in 1982 after the financial losses incurred by their Mole Show tour; and self-confessed Residents composer Hardy Fox died in 2018).

However, the Residents might argue that any Residents tour is performed by a Residents cover band. This is a fair argument, given the vast difference in approach and instrumentation between their studio music and any live performance. The often multi-layered, carefully crafted and vehemently anti-musical approach of the Residents’ recorded work is at odds with the musical proficiency required for a live performance so coherent; the deliberate slapdash sound and haphazard arrangements must ironically require all the greater amount of technique, structure, planning and rehearsal to reproduce live, especially so well as the Residents do tonight.

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Chris Oliver

I've been playing bass guitar and guitar for over half my life. I last played bass in in a band called Electromotive and as a singer-songwriter I have written songs about cheese and vajazzles (separate songs!). I started out listening to 60s, 70s and 80s rock as a kid and I was in to grunge and U.S. punk and ska in the 90s. Since then, I've broadened my tastes and I like the best of all styles of music, even country. I've been writing for Silent Radio since it started.