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Published: 2002/11/20
by Jesse Jarnow

The Residents, Warsaw, Brooklyn, NY- 11/13

NYC ROLL-TOP: Look Into The Eyeball

The Residents' molded plastic eyeballs were much smaller than I imagined. To
be honest, they weren't actually wearing them — though a dude
dressed as some sort of demon mysteriously (and hilariously) paraded one of
them around the stage like the strange curio it was. Anonymous Resident #1
stared wistfully at it, and the demon patted it lovingly. The crowd cheered.

In some ways, The Residents can be summed up briefly, in a kind of reverent
tone that has been used to communicate urgently, nerd-to-nerd, for the 30
years of the band's obscure existence: weirdo band from the Bay Area, nobody
knows who they are because they only appear in public under heavy masking
(including, most famously, bloodshot and top-hatted eyeballs), creators of
synthesized circus music, and a big influence on latter-day freakizoids like
Phish and Primus (whose members have paid tribute to the band via
tee-shirts, in the former case, and covers, in the latter).

As would befit such a band, there is almost no such thing as a "normal"
Residents album or concert performance. Their albums tend towards the
conceptual, and their gigs towards a combination of performance art and
theatrical narrative. On November 13th, they opened an undersold three-night
stand at Brooklyn's Warsaw, performing their latest tragicomedy, Demons
Dance Alone. With its closed faux-velvet curtain adorned by American and
Polish flags, and gold paint around the perimeter of the stage, the vibe
before the show was decidedly that of a junior high school musical. The
visible stage props – wooden coat-racks, a microphone stand hidden behind
one, in front of the curtain – certainly added as well.

At a little after nine, the curtains parted, and there they were: The
Residents. Not in the top hats. That was fine, though I supposed I was a
taste disappointed; I can understand why they weren't wearing them. Instead,
four musicians clustered on the right side of the stage, all dressed in
hooded mesh costumes that seemed a combination of bee keepers' uniforms and
the Sand People from Star Wars. There was a guitarist, a keyboardist,
somebody playing what looked like some sort of MIDI vibraphone (which
triggered drums, marimbas, and other percussion instruments), and somebody
behind an implacable wall of gear (possibly female). To their left were sets
made of similar mesh netting, on which some video was occasionally
projected. Notable was the absence of any kind of amplifiers; everything
was pumped through the PA, which would have a deep effect on the band's two
sets of music.

Following an instrumental introduction, the man who was undoubtedly the Head
Resident strutted out onto stage with a lantern and a wireless microphone.
And he began singing in a pinched southern voice quite reminiscent of Les
Claypool (who surely drew a lot from The Residents). Shortly, a female
character joined him, wearing a cone bra, as well as the aforementioned
demon. I think there was a story, too. At least, that's what I gleaned from
the way the characters interacted with each other, their abstract dances,
and the fragments of lyrics I could understand. All in all, though, it was a
bit like watching an old silent movie without cue cards — snippets of
gestures designed to be discerned as types of gestures, rather than specific

The music was… weird. I guess that's not very articulate, huh? Like most
of the Residents' music from the past 30 years, it was almost entirely synth
driven. On record, this is fine. The Residents are comfortable with a
certain combination of effects, like a painter's particular combination of
colors, which defines their personality. And though those effects have
changed markedly from analog to digital over the course of their career, it
has always remained vitally them. There were no analog or unprocessed
sounds coming from the speakers, other than the vocals; even the electric
guitar was buried under a bed of pedals.

The fact that the entirety of the sounds were coming from the speakers was
quite disconcerting. There was very little visceral connection between the
movements of the musicians and the music they were making. While this is
perfectly normal for electronic acts, the Residents still sounded
like a rock band to some degree, and the crowd still reacted as if they
were. Besides a masked confessional from the Head Resident, which was
certainly of the plot I was imagining, there was no clear peak point to the
story. And so The Residents danced, leaving the demon alone, briefly, and
left. It was some weird shit, alright.

Jesse Jarnow would like to thank
his counselor at sleepaway camp, Sean Murphy, for first exposing him to The
Residents at the tender age of

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