The Residents change their artistic focus almost as often as they change their disguises.
Besides music they have dabbled in the realms of visual art, theater, video and now literature.
This week Noise Pop teamed up with Litquake to present their latest creation at the Swedish American Hall.
Litquake is the biggest yearly literary event in San Francisco. They put on shows year round but the real festivities occur during the middle two weeks of October when there are events going on almost every night of the week culminating in the Saturday night Litcrawl which this year takes place on Oct. 20.
One of the biggest events of this year’s Litquake festivities was The Residents’ live performance of The Brickeaters (A Novel), which incorporated readings from the book with musical performances by the band.
The Brickeaters is “an absurdist buddy story” involving the relationship between a young internet content screener and an aging career criminal and their quest to prevent a lottery winner from polluting the Los Angeles water supply with massive amounts of fluoride.
The book is just as absurd and surreal as it sounds but what else would you expect from The Residents? For over forty years they have been one of the world’s premier surrealist collectives. They always perform in strange disguises and no one knows who they are or even exactly how many people are in the band.
Their music and albums are legendary including such classics as Duck Stab, Santa Dog, and The Third Reich ‘n Roll. Their video projects and collected works are part of the permanent collection of the New York Museum of Modern Art.
They’ve also written soundtracks for numerous films and TV shows. They’ve performed plays, put out multi-media projects, so it makes perfect sense that they would dabble in literature as well.
This is actually the second novel to be produced by the band. Their last one, Bad Day on the Midway, was also a noirish, surrealist, page turner.
Tuesday night The Residents took the stage in their new bird faced masks with dark goggles and psychedelic Bavarian blue and white checkered suits. The lead singer came out dressed as a mutant cow complete with horns and hooves.
The band is a four piece these days with guitar, keyboards, and drums backing up the lead singer. This is probably the most musically adept incarnation of the band and the guitarist is just divine.
They started with a souped up expansive psychedelic version of “Jelly Jack” that was almost unrecognizable from its original album version.
Between songs there were live spoken word readings from The Brickeaters novel performed by two actors that were video projected onto a huge globe on one side of the stage.
The story interludes were macabre and humorous. The writing was surreal in nature but still had a coherent narrative flow.
The “brickeater” story which gives the novel its title is a particularly strong piece of fiction. It was absurd yet structured, funny and poignant all at the same time.
The frequent spoken word interludes gave you a real feel for the flow and themes of the novel. They also made a nice counterpart to the noisy musical passages.
The Residents are always at their best when they combine art and performance art with the music to make it more than just a rock show.
The Residents played a full set from their songbook but many of these songs were so dramatically reimagined that it was hard to recognize them.
Often they would be more than halfway through a song before I caught a few words or a musical passage I recognized.
They also did a number of cover songs and traditional tunes that were similarly deconstructed. A typical example was when they took the traditional song “From The Plains to Mexico” and reimagined it as a droney death rocker anthem.
They did a dark version of “Teddy Bear” that was an epic symphony of dissonance. The show kept building in intensity until they ended with a truly spectacular version of “Six More Miles To The Graveyard”. It was a huge staggering psychedelic masterpiece and a great way to close the show.
If you missed Tuesday night’s show you can still see this latest literary incarnation of The Residents at City Lights Bookstore. The band will be performing there at 7pm on Halloween. Also, if you want to see Tuesday night’s show it was filmed in streaming 360 video and is available here.