The Residents were pioneers of avant-garde music & cutting edge theatre

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The Residents were pioneers of avant-garde music & cutting edge theatre

I was on the phone with a friend recently when he stopped me in mid-sentence and queried about the music I was playing in the background. I told him the synth drive and screaming Texan drawl that was greeting his ear was none other than musical miscreants the Residents, specifically their new panoramic box set, Cube-E Box. He quickly fired back, “Oh, the eyeball band.”

While the image of wearing giant eyeballs on their shoulders has indeed bubbled up into the corners of mainstream culture, not many can point to the giant leaps they’ve made for underground music and art. Since their inception in the early ’70s, this “eyeball band” have thumbed their noses at celebrity culture throughout their lengthy career by operating in the shadows of anonymity while trailblazing avant-garde music with cutting edge theatre. Their label Ralph Records remains a maverick among artist-run indie labels since they released Meet the Residents in 1972 and have now released over 30 records from the Residents and many other avant-garde artists.  While remaining ahead of the curve with technology — mounting numerous themed tours with daring and cutting edge production — the Residents have documented both their early and recent film experiments as well as live shows with nine DVDs.

What we get with their most recent release, Cube-E Box, is a seven-CD set with exhaustive notes documenting their 1989/1990 live shows, along with plenty of extras. The centrepiece of the set is the three-act play that they performed on the tour starting with the deconstructed country of Buckaroo Blues into the bluesy tourist pamphlet from Dementia 13 titled Black Barry before closing things out with the brilliant third act that would tell the tale of the man who would be king, Elvis Presley, with the epic The Baby King. These three acts make up the first three CDs with a ton of extras, CDs four and five pick up with the San Francisco live recordings of the three pieces while their take on the Elvis canon, The King & Eye, takes up CD six, before closing things off with all of the demos of the The King & Eye (previously only available to fan club members) which seriously gives the final version a good run for its money.

If you aren’t a dyed in the wool Residents fan — and although there aren’t many, those who tend to take a shine to them are often quite fanatical — this might not be a good fall-in point. Having said that, though, the three-act play is undeniably amazing. In fact, this live presentation of The Baby King could be considered one of their most inspired pieces of work, up there with Eskimo, Meet the Residents, Duck Stab and the stunning and epic The Mole Trilogy.

I absolutely love giving stuff away in this column and this month’s contest prize is the biggest yet. The fine people at MVD Audio have agreed to let one of these box sets go to the first person who can put “I have explosive diarrhea” in the email subject heading and tell me the year that the Residents last played Montreal. The first person who can email me the correct answer (here) will be scooping this seven-CD box set-up. Good luck, weirdos. ■

This column was originally published in the February issue of Cult MTL.

See previous editions of Hammer of the Mods here.
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