It’s been 44 years since Shreveport-founded experimental collective The Residents released its debut album, but somehow, in all that time, the group never made it to New Orleans. That changed Monday night, when the mysterious act arrived at The Music Box Village.
Aside from an aesthetic through-line of eyeballs, top hats and avian accessories, The Residents’ only consistent feature over more than four decades of avant garde music-making has been change. Aside from a notable slip-up by one Hardy Fox, no member has ever revealed his or her identity, but the personnel has certainly been adjusted over the years. It’s been speculated that Homer Flynn, who spoke with ANTIGRAVITY and My Spilt Milk in advance of Monday’s performance as the band’s “manager,” is the last remaining original member, but nothing is certain.
The band that played The Music Box Sunday night sounded almost nothing like the group behind Meet the Residents, the 1974 Beatles-mocking (and sampling) masterpiece that started it all. Monday’s music had much more in common with straightahead hair metal than it did with those bizarre early efforts. Most songs centered on the guitar, played loud and with plenty of wah pedal, as if one of the Hawkins brothers had abandoned their set with The Darkness at The Civic and slipped into a tux-and-beak disguise.
The lead singer, frontman and only bovine Resident (very possibly Flynn himself) lacked range Monday night, abandoning the idiosyncrasy and unpredictability that made The Residents’ early vocal work so fascinating. Where there was once pitch-bending, distortion and choral chants, the man behind the cow mask chose to stick with a straightforward scream/growl that often verged on Cookie Monster levels of gurgliness.
It was disappointing to see a group with a seemingly infinite sonic palate narrow their sights on such a straightforward set, especially at The Music Box, where the options for noise creation are strange and limitless. Rather than playing the venue’s unique musical architecture, the band stayed put on their temporary stage and stuck with the traditional instruments they brought with them.
Still, the show was a thoroughly entertaining experience. The lyrics weren’t always discernible, but the subject matter ranged from freak show horror (“Mickey, the Mumbling Midget”) to BDSM stuffed animals (“Teddy Bear”) to the patriarchy (“It’s a Man’s Man’s World”). The arrangements were rich, and while The Residents barely scratched the surface of their oceanic noise arsenal, they still managed to flex their top-tier sampling skills.
The Residents are midway through their “In Between Dreams” Tour, which only coincidentally shares a name with Jack Johnson’s third studio album. The set was substantial, clocking in at almost two hours and 20 songs, broken up into shorter segments by four “dreams:” video clips projected onto a mounted orb stage right of the performers. “Dream #1: The Cowboy Dream” featured a deranged monologue from a supremely creepy clown. “Dream #2: The Trainwreck Dream” showed a nun rambling on with decreasing coherence and finally singing the classic circus theme for a very uncomfortable 30 seconds. “Dream #3: Nixon Sings the Blues” was pretty self-explanatory–disgraced ex-president Richard Nixon got on-screen and described a dream in which he and his administration formed a blues band (Nixon on guitar and vocals, Agnew on bass, Kissinger on drums) and rocked the White House. And “Dream #4: The Ballerina Dream” was just John Wayne rambling about a weird ballerina sex fantasy, I think. All good stuff.
After ending their regular set with the haunting “Tourniquet of Roses,” The Residents quickly resumed the stage with a guest performer: a trumpet player in a squid mask who provided the most interesting musicianship of the evening. During the final track, a cover of Hank Williams’ “Six More Miles to the Graveyard,” the guitarist (who I’m still convinced was an MIA Justin Hawkins) threw a full-on tantrum, stamping his feet and waving frantically at the sound guy. Personally, I couldn’t catch any issues with the front-facing monitors. To The Residents’ credit, they quickly pulled it together and finished strong, not allowing the issue–real or perceived–to ruin their finale. After an extended curtain call, the band left briefly and returned in their tailcoats, eyeball masks, and top hats to mingle anonymously with the crowd as it filtered out.