Review: I Spy with My Big Eye the Raucous Residents

The Residents

In this cult of personality era, The Residents, part of the Bay Area’s Cryptic Corporation, played a refreshingly product, not person, focused set at Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music for two shows last week.

To perpetuate this fake news era, the musicians continue to deny that they are in the band, despite evidence to the contrary.

Instead of their classic obfuscating eyeball heads, the drummer, synth player and guitarist in the anonymous quartet wore harlequin aqua and white diamond suits under white bowlers, bird beaks and goggle masks. The singer (perhaps Homer Flynn) swayed and growled (and played harmonica), wearing a Lycra cow unitard, snout and ears, punctuated by a black Speedo.

Since 1974, the avant-garde rock band has released experimental music and art for over 60 albums and associated projects (some of their videos are in MoMA’s permanent collection), over seven world tours as well as scoring films and TV shows, pioneering fusions among electronica, industrial and punk. They continued their atonal, conceptual deconstructions for a vigorous 90 minutes, interspersed by short videos projected on an eyeball pylon upstage, featuring dream monologues about cowboys and Richard Nixon, ballerinas and John Wayne.

Stand-outs were the lanky guitarist (possibly Nolan Cook) stage left (obscuring the synthetic drum kit from my seat), who kept his dissonant riffs on point, bending notes like Adrian Belew and giving his whammy bar and effects pedals a workout, as well as their cover of James Brown’s “Man’s World.”

Recently the band launched the “I Am A Resident!” contest, asking fans to “cross the line between passive consumption and active participation” and record a version of any song from their vast catalog. The Runner-Ups and winners are announced here.

Post-show, one in the older, hippie crowd thought the show was a mix of Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa. And, in remembrance of the band’s first album Meet the Residents, a parody of the Fab Four’s 1964 release, an Ohio guy smoking outside summed it up: “The Residents are the Beatles if they played minor chords.”

Photo by Elizabeth Gohr
Karin McKie
Karin McKie

Karin McKie is a Chicago freelance writer, cultural factotum and activism concierge. She jams econo.

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