Underground legends 'The Residents" brought their majestic weirdness to Santa Cruz's Rio Theater Thursday night where they presented Shadowland, a kind of performance rock opera.
Shadowland is part three of the Randy, Chuck, and Bob Trilogy. Over its course, the trilogy has examined life in reverse.
It began in 2010 with the "Talking Light Tour" and CD which was a meditation on ghosts and death. This was followed by the "Wonder of Weird Tour" in 2013 which explored love and sex.
And now, the group finally comes full circle with Shadowland, which combines themes of birth, rebirth, reincarnation, and near death experiences. No bubblegum pop here.
In fact, you never get what you expect from The Residents, only the unexpected.
Over the course of the past 40 years, the group has been an ever-mutating and evolving experience where no two tours were ever alike. Their faces, costumes, and even members are constantly changing.
No one is sure who exactly they are or ever have been. That's half the fun of them. They take the traditional ideas of rock and roll and pop music ego and turn them on their ear. It's a masterful sleight of hand that pretty much leaves the concepts of media celebrity mute and void.
It's been so long since anybody knew who they were that who cares who they are anymore? And isn't that the point? Isn't it the music that's important? And "The Residents'" music is important.
Over their long and prolific career "The Residents" have produced one of the most compelling and unique songbooks in modern music. Many other musicians may emulate or copy them but nobody can duplicate or equal their savage edge, their eviscerating vision of a cruel and ugly world. There's a good reason their collected works are part of the permanent collection of the New York Museum of Modern Art.
The band has been extremely active lately as part of their fortieth anniversary celebration. Besides the aforementioned tours they are also the subject of a major career retrospective documentary called "Theory of Obscurity," which will be premiering at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas on Saturday.
A 20-minute excerpt of the documentary started Thursday night's show. It was a kind of thumbnail sketch of their many permutations over the past four decades.
After the film, the lights went up as if the show was over, it was almost as if the beginning was the end. You didn't know if you could get up and go to the bathroom, or if you should sit and wait as to not miss something.
Stage hands started setting up the stage as the music began. After a suite of wonderfully twisted techno music the band finally took the stage dressed as skull faced demons.
After a crazed but quite musical first song about rabbits the lead singer unmasked to reveal yet another mask underneath. What followed for the next two hours were songs and videos about death and near death experiences.
The only thing all the songs and videos had in common was that they were all deeply psychologically disturbing. But this was some of the best music "The Residents" have ever done.
People used to joke that the band didn't know how to play their instruments. Well now there's no doubt about the fact that they can play them and play them well.
"The Residents" are a trio these days with a lead singer, guitarist, and keyboardist who also plays samples and electronic drums. Both the guitarist and keyboardist have virtuoso chops and for a three-piece the band can create a phenomenally majestic sound.
Shadowland incorporates some of their classic compositions into the new songs and Thursday night they were rolling out the hits: Blue Rosebuds. Harold The Head. Weight Lifting Lulu. Constantinople. Easter Woman. Old-school fans were in heaven.
Some of these older songs were so radically reinterpreted that sometimes the band would be a couple minutes into a song before you could even tell what it was. That was part of the fun.
"The Residents" are constantly reinventing themselves and Thursday night was no different. They had totally new costumes and stage designs.
Like every tour this one was completely different from the one before. People like to think of them as the classic eyeball helmets in tuxedos, but the truth is "The Residents" wear many faces.
Both musically and artistically they have never been better and Shadowland is great showcase of what they have done and can do.