Wow, I just went to a show that was billed as a listening party for a new album that instead turned out to be basically a live performance by the band, and a great performance at that.
On Thursday night The Residents treated their fans to a listening party for their new album at the San Francisco Exploratorium and because it’s The Residents, this was no ordinary listening party.
In fact, over the course of the more than 40 years since the release of their first album, “Meet The Residents” the band has violated pretty much every norm in the history of rock and pop music.
In an industry that runs on fame, no one knows who any of The Residents are. They only perform in costumes with masks that hide their identity.
In the past few years the band “revealed” who their members were but our introduction to “Randy”, “Chuck”, and “Bob” was just another layer of subterfuge as their personalities and costumes turned out to be just more elaborate masks to hide the true identities of the band members.
The Exploratorium show was a listening party for their new album: The Ghosts Of Hope, a collection of songs about train wrecks. Many of the songs were actually based on historical train wrecks from the 1800s, a time when trains were the dominant form of mass transportation.
Rather than have a standard listening party where the audience just passively listens to the new music, The Residents turned Thursday’s event into a full-blown performance. The album was stripped down to some basic backing tracks and then the band played the majority of the music live.
The evening started with an amazing music video John Sanborn created for the song, “Rushing Like A Banshee.”
It was an overwhelming piece of kaleidoscopic psychedelia that got the show rolling perfectly.
After this, the screen rose to reveal the band who started into the album’s first song, “Horrors Of The Night”.
The band was a four piece of drums, vocals, guitar, and keyboards and all of their heads were hidden behind faceless black masks. Each of them wore varying degrees of engineer drag.
There were two guest vocalists, Laurie Hall and Peter Whitehead who didn’t wear masks and costumes and their accompaniment added a nice variety to the vocal aspects of the show.
On a vocal level the album sounded like a sad beautiful folk album, the lyrics almost had a traditional feel to them. But on the instrumental level the band was working over a vast and varied sonic pallet that incorporated elements of ambient music, heavy metal, traditional music, and prog rock with various other musical styles thrown into the mix.
The Residents are known for their dark themes and their music can be hash, grating, and dissonant at times, but this new music was remarkably different.
Although the subject matter of the album was still characteristically dark, the music was well, much prettier than usual. The guitarist and keyboardist have developed an amazing chemistry that expressed itself in many passages of just lovely music.
This is one of those rare Residents albums you could actually play for your conservative relatives from the Midwest and not freak them out.
The guitarist especially has replaced the harsh grindy sounds of the recent albums with a fluid lyricism that was breathtaking at times. This was a kinder, gentler, Residents on display on Thursday night and Ghosts Of Hope may be the most listenable album they’ve ever recorded.
This event was part of the Exploratorium’s After Dark program which occurs every Thursday night from 6 to 10 p.m. and is an adults only event.
Upcoming After Dark events include next week’s Cannabis After Dark and the following week there is live Vietnamese music. These are great events in a great space so check them out.