‘Wonder of Weird’ at The Barbican, London.
May 18, 2013
Influential, experimental… bloody crackers. Nobody on this earth does ‘weird’ quite so brilliantly as The Residents.
For four deranged decades this San Franciscan collective has pioneered its own playful deconstruction of pop music, leaving behind a remarkable lineage of noisy singles, strange concept albums, arthouse films – and, back in the day, a fair bit of leaping about in KKK hoods fashioned from old newspapers.
Their live outings are rare but always epic and memorable. And this newest one reaches gratifyingly Residents-worthy levels of oddness: it’s a summer tour, yes – only a summer tour dressed up as an all-jingling, all-jangling Christmas spectacular. Ta-daa!
Seasonal trimmings of every shape cover the stage. Fake snowmen, plastic reindeer, gaudily-wrapped parcels, candy canes, a full-size open sleigh, a giant inflatable Father Christmas and, right there in the middle, is a bona fide Resident togged out in a Santa suit… but not in a nice way, children. Not in a nice way.
This bad Santa, who introduces himself as ‘RandythesingerfromtheResidents’, cuts a disturbing figure as he goes about his Wicker Man knuckle-swinging dance from one side of the stage to the other. He tells loads of entertaining stories, switching schizophrenically from funny recollections of life behind a cumbersome eyeball head mask to uncomfortably enthusiastic eulogies to blow jobs. All the while he is flanked by two seated and masked Residents whose role is to quietly pump out some truly fantastic music.
Lo, when the three of them are in full flight – and thankfully this is quite a frequent occurence – the vacuous theatre setting of the Barbican is set aglow with a powerful, highly original melee of sound. There is something special in ‘Randysingeretc’s simple man growl when it comes up against the warm midi piano licks and perverted, Zappa-like guitar. Yes – united properly, this is a glorious sound indeed.
Less threatening tunework like the commercial ditty ‘Amber’ is lapped up by all, as is a short segment of ‘Marching To The See’ recovered from the financial wreck but artistic triumph that was the Mole Trilogy. But it’s a heart-stopping tribute to long-time collaborator Snakefinger, a snarly and jagged ‘Man In The Dark Sedan’, that truly throws the audience. It’s followed by a spookily quiet and motionless minute of earnest contemplation from the three guys on stage.
Stories and sounds abound, until the whole experience is brought to a fantastic and dramatic close. After wrestling a swivel chair to the ground a few times, ‘Randyetc’ and his two subversive cohorts turn their backs to the audience slowly, holding fists over their hearts in sombre salute. As a tall, white inflatable Christmas tree springs up in front of them, all becomes clear – they are pledging allegiance to a big ole eyeball that sits on the top.
Auld Lang Syne breaks out over the PA and the audience erupts. Forty years of oddness and they are still going strong – these weird old acquaintances of ours are not likely to be forgotten any time soon.
All words by Andy Barding. You can read more from Andy on LTW here.