Forty years is a long time for any musical entity to survive - especially with its creativity and zeal for discovery intact. But consider how challenging such a marathon run would be for a group that has virtually defined the avant-garde from the start, has never even approached the commercial mainstream and - the icing on the proverbial cake - has remained anonymous throughout its four-decade run! The Residents are that rock group, and 2012 marks the band's 40th Anniversary. With more than 60 albums to their credit - about half of those comprised of new studio material, and having pioneered in a plethora of areas ranging from independent recording to multimedia technology to innovative stage performance, The Residents have not only survived but thrived. Over the years they have built an audience too large and dedicated to be called a cult following but steadfastly fly too far beneath the radar to be considered anything else. They've done so by constantly challenging and reinventing themselves, and by keeping their audience guessing.
Now, nearly four decades since they began their residency on this planet, The Residents are as prolific as they've ever been. Beginning in Mexico on March 15, 2011 and winding up in San Francisco - their home base - a month later, the group will head out on the latest leg of their Talking Light tour, which began in January 2010. As they make their way from town to town, The Residents will be selling a DVD entitled Randy's Ghost Stories (MVD Entertainment Group) featuring videos of eight ghost stories presented throughout the tour plus two bonus videos. The band will also have for sale a CD of instrumental music titled Dolar Generar, and a new CD, Lonely Teenager, the origin of which stems from the ongoing tour. All confirmed spring 2011 tour dates are listed below.
The inspiration behind the Talking Light tour lies in The Residents' interest in ghost stories. Like many of their projects, it began at a germ of an idea, then took on a life of its own. As the idea evolved, The Residents began to realize that what they saw as ghost stories had become a show about aging and death. They wanted to have fun with the concept, and in true Residents fashion, their idea of fun is just a bit darker and scarier than how the mainstream tends to define it. Each show begins with the title piece, "Talking Light," which follows the tale of a "lonely teenager" who comes upon a mysterious skeleton baby in a remote desert cottage, and concludes with "Unseen Sister," revolving around a woman and her invisible twin sister - and the weirdly conflicting emotions surrounding the death of her mother when the woman was just a child.
Each show also includes a third piece - which might be "Perchance to Dream," "The Sleepwalker," "Ghost Snake," "Florence," "Milton" or "Pudding in Disguise," - each of which is equally engrossing. All of these ghost stories carry a common theme, centered around TV culture and commercials, which ultimately asks the question: In a world where nearly everything has become defined and categorized, how do we fill our obvious, purely human need for the fuzzy, vague and supernatural - with TV commercials? The Residents have some creative answers for you.
Regarding the Talking Light tour, Homer Flynn, co-manager of The Residents and graphic designer of the group's Cryptic Corporation, says, "In many respects Talking Light can be seen as a piece of nostalgia, a band performing some of their old songs. But this casual observance hides a very important element that I can only describe as the most revolutionary turnabout the group has ever made. After years of finely crafted shows, The Residents have decided to almost literally give the public a view into how they work and what they actually sound like removed from the studio. The performers are not some mysterious entities but just some good natured dudes named Randy, Chuck and Bob who like to get together to make noise once in a while. But is that yet another illusion?
"The single most important sentence spoken during the show," Flynn continues, "is so casually tossed off that many people probably miss it entirely: 'The mirror has two sides.' With that, the mirror, abruptly revealed near the climax of the show, essentially becomes the looking glass through which we all view the world. The Residents reflect the audience but they also reflect themselves. The show is a duality for them, a battlefront/coalition between the audience and the performer. Not only does the mirror change who The Residents are, but the audience is also forced to change as Randy holds the mirror out toward them."
But just because The Residents are ruminating on mortality in their latest creation, says Flynn, "Do not try to dismiss them as old people at the end of their creative lives. The Residents are on the prowl again. If anything, this latest reinvention only suggests that they are indeed trying for the golden anniversary. This is not the guys in eyeballs [anymore]. They are more approachable than that, but at the same time a bit more frightening. It is like they have seen through the eyeballs and are in possession of newly found wisdom."
If some or all of that sounds just a little baffling - particularly if you've yet to be exposed to Residentia - this is, as noted above, a group that, after all, calls its business arm the Cryptic Corporation. Their iconic imagery includes the famous oversized eyeball heads and tuxes that the musicians have worn at their concerts and on recordings, and this is a group that called one of its early albums Third Reich 'n' Roll and whose other releases, all of which are starkly original, have included God in Three Persons, described in Wikipedia as "a story about the exploitation of two Siamese twins with healing powers by a male dominant force," and whose album Wormwood: Curious Stories from the Bible extrapolated on the tales of Noah, Moses, Abraham, et. al., in The Residents' undeniably unique manner.
Early pioneers of home studio recording, The Residents - whose first release was the now-legendary "Santa Dog" single in 1972, followed two years later by the LP Meet The Residents - have utilized to their advantage every new technological tool that's come along, from two-track tape up through today's prevailing digital marvels. They jumped early and enthusiastically into the worlds of CD-ROM and DVD, podcasts and Internet video, and of course, they've made ample use of the film medium to further their artistic reach. By their own count, they've written some 563 songs to date, no two of them alike: One of their early albums, cheekily titled The Residents' Commercial Album, consisted of 40 one-minute tracks, while more recent projects have explored the storytelling form. Talking Light falls into the latter category.
Benefiting greatly from the Talking Light tour, Flynn says of the band's latest CD, "Lonely Teenager is the studio album that might have been." Flynn continues, "The normal business cycle calls for a band to record an album, then to tour in support of it. But if nothing else, The Residents love to experiment, often perversely defying convention. Consequently, during a time when little interest is being paid to CDs, the idea of developing a touring show without the restriction of promoting an album made perfect sense. This time the group could just play whatever they wanted instead of a predetermined show. It would be fun, and it was. But after 40 or so performances, The Residents started wondering: What would 'the album that might have been' sound like? They began to imagine the fictitious album they would be supporting, had they actually recorded one. As usual with Randy, Chuck and Bob, imagination quickly leads to action, and, in a short time this action produced the curious Lonely Teenager."
Lonely Teenager also includes additional tunes featuring new arrangements of "Lizard Lady" (from the Duck Stab Re-Imagined sessions) and The Bunny Boy's "Boxes of Armageddon." A special version to be sold on tour contains a bonus track: a unique rehearsal version of "The Unseen Sister" from October 2009.
Don't miss The Residents as they present Talking Light in a city near you! They will return to many of these markets in 2012 as they celebrate the 40th Anniversary of The Residents.