Concert review: The Residents (2/12/2013)

This week I went to see The Residents at the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art. The ICA is an absolutely beautiful place to see a concert, with perfect sightlines and great sound, which makes up for it being so inconvenient to get to from where I live. They put on quite a few interesting “new music” concerts there, and I’ve seen some truly remarkable performances thanks to them. It is, however, a slightly strange place for a band like the Residents to play. Not really the sort of band you expect to find in a museum.

Me reviewing the Residents is a little bit like NPR’s “You’ve Never Heard?” series, where they make an intern listen to something that was supposed to be really important when their parents were kids. The Residents were recording and performing for years before I was even born! I decided to go see them based on reputation alone (as a live music buff, I generally will go see a band live rather than buying a couple of CDs or spending an hour on Youtube checking them out). So I didn’t know what to expect aside from some vague impressions I’d gotten over the years.

I certainly wasn’t expecting a Christmas theme – but this is what we got! The set for the show was a giant inflatable Christmas decoration of the type that crazy people put on their lawns around the holidays. And here I thought I wouldn’t have to deal with any more giant Santas until September or October… oh well. When the band came out, I was impressed by the weird and extremely cool masks that Bob and Chuck were wearing, and a bit put off by the Santa/clown (?) outfit that Randy was sporting. I was pleased that I’d selected a seat in the front row in front of Bob, since he was by far the most fun to look at – he was wearing a sort of balaclava full-head mask with plastic dreadlock-like attachments and some steampunk-ish goggles, along with a white tuxedo jacket with lots of bright red sequins. In fact, he looked so good I snapped a pic with my cell phone:


Now that’s a costume! Also note the snowflake-patterned lights on the floor behind him, to go with their Christmas theme.

As for the performance… I really liked what Chuck and Bob were doing with the electronics and guitar (especially the electronics). Some really cool stuff. Very interesting, very intriguing. My favorite parts of the whole concert were a couple of instrumental sections where it was just the two of them playing together. The vocals? Some songs were better than others. He had a lot of different audio effects and styles, and I liked some and didn’t like others so much. The bad part was the between-song patter. Not having seen them before, I’m not sure how much of this was Randy’s personality and how much was an act, but the heavy-breathing sad-sack elderly Santa schtick was not working for me. If I’m being honest, it was really getting on my nerves in a bad way.

I’m very glad I went to see them and experienced the band; but I think they are probably in the category of interesting bands that I only need to see once. (But I would probably go back and see the Chuck and Bob Tour, if such a thing existed.)

On an unrelated note, it’s been quite a week for avant garde performance art; I went to see a Liars & Believers production called “Lunar Labyrinth” at Oberon, which is a fringe offshoot of the A.R.T. here in Cambridge. They do a lot of music/theater crossover material at Oberon, from straight-up musicals to Shakespeare-inspired disco dance nights. It’s one of my favorite local spots, and every time I go there I tell myself I should go more often. “Lunar Labyrinth” – based on a Neil Gaiman story – was really unusual, incorporating theater, dance, and music into a sort of avant garde horror show. There was no clear storyline, but it was fascinating from start to finish – I was disappointed when it ended because I wanted it to keep going. I’ll be keeping an eye on Liars & Believers and hopefully they will keep creating interesting performances like this.

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