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The Residents — 13th Anniversary Show Live in Tokyo
(East Side Digital ESD 81472, 1986/1999, CD)

The Residents — Diskomo 2000 / Goosebump
(East Side Digital ESD 81512, 2000, CD)

The Residents — George & James (American Composer Series - Volume 1)
(East Side Digital ESD 81482, 1984/2000, CD)

The Residents — Stars & Hank Forever! (The American Composers Series - Volume II)
(East Quest Records ESD 81492, 1986/2000, CD)

by Steve Robey, Published 2000-10-01

13th Anniversary Show Live in Tokyo Cover artDiskomo 2000 / Goosebump Cover artGeorge & James (American Composer Series - Volume 1) Cover artStars & Hank Forever! (The American Composers Series - Volume II) Cover art

These re-releases comprise the bulk of The Residents’ early to mid 80s output, starting around the tail end of the “Mole Trilogy” era and ending with a triumphant live tour in 1986. It occurred to me the other day that I always find myself vigorously defending my allegiance to this band against heartfelt objections from all sorts of music fans. Some people just don’t get it. Or maybe I don’t. In any case, if you’re an iconoclastic individual wishing to bewilder your fellow man, I always say dive into The Residents and enjoy the ride; there’s certainly no one else on the planet like them.

This particular chapter begins in 1980, when The Residents somehow decided that a disco-remake of their avant 1978 masterpiece Eskimo album was in order — the result, Diskomo! Emblazoned with the hopefully-ironic caption “Disco Will Never Die,” this release includes the original 8-minute “Diskomo,” a 1992 remake and a 2000 remake, each of which reflects the disco styles of its respective time period. It’s a lot of fun, and the Residents actually do justice to the disco format (though a truly faithful rendition thankfully seems outside both their reach and their desire) while still revisiting themes from their masterpiece in a thoughtful, tactful manner. Another curio from this period, Goosebump, is also included on this CD. Here, The Residents present some of their most twisted musical ideas ever to service the banal verses of several nursery rhymes. For those who know The Residents, this project is a natural for them, as many of their past and future songs employ the iambic cadences of nursery rhymes anyway. Though it’s a minor EP release presented as a sideline diversion, this is quintessential Residents.

George and James (1983) was their first installment in the “American Composers Series,” where The Residents aimed to interpret the works of a wide array of American composers. The response to this series was very mixed, and it was thus soon abandoned. This first volume takes on both George Gershwin and James Brown (the Live at the Apollo album in particular), one vinyl side devoted to each composer. The Gershwin side definitely has its moments, but ten minutes of lackluster variations on the theme to “Rhapsody in Blue” well outstays its welcome. The other two pieces, “I Got Rhythm” and “Summertime,” are even more tedious. Sadly, things get really macabre on the James Brown side, which doesn’t even have The Residents’ trademark production savvy going for it. The vocals are a mess, the music minimal, and the dubbed-in crowd noises push the limits of good taste (ironically, The Residents did worlds better on a single of “It’s a Man’s World,” not included on the album). Either The Residents were even more cynical than we thought, or this attempt was truly misguided. Still, where The Residents are concerned, everything has a purpose, and despite its unattractive veneer, this release is still worth a few listens, although it is far from being their best work.

The second installment, Stars and Hank Forever! (1985), improves things somewhat. This time, Hank Williams and John Phillip Sousa get the treatment. The Hank side is excellent, and The Residents actually handle songs like “Jambalaya,” “Kawliga,” and “Six More Miles (to the Graveyard)” (which the Residents subsequently performed at the funeral of longtime friend and collaborator Snakefinger), and make these songs their own. The arrangements are largely synthesized, even danceable, but they somehow convey the soul of Hank Williams while completely reinventing the pieces. This side is a career high point as far as cover versions go. Then there’s Sousa. God, how I hate marches. But let’s get objective here. As far as American composition goes, few composers are as well known and popular as Sousa, so I can see the point in including him. But can I sit through it? O Lord, how I did try.

Also in 1985, college-age fan Rich Shupe somehow convinced the ever-elusive Residents to go on a live tour, and even managed to coordinate the whole thing (he subsequently became their manager). At the time, The Residents were extremely wary of live tours, having lost their shirts a few years before in the financially disastrous Mole Tour of 1982. However, interest in the band had flowered to the point that certain Japanese venues were willing to bankroll the whole thing, so The Residents thought, what the hell. The resulting document of that tour, the 13th Anniversary Show album (previously unavailable in the US, as far as I know), is an absolute triumph, a bold step encompassing their career to that point, and going even further musically than I could have expected. With guitarist Snakefinger on board doing his impossibly abstract guitar asides and wonderful solos, The Residents were unstoppable. Previously unrelated pieces are segued together, congealing into mesmerizing suites that barely resemble the original versions yet improve on them. Since their prior live performances (and all subsequent ones) focus on a single performance piece (i.e. The Mole Show, Wormwood, Freak Show, Cube E, etc.), this live “greatest hits” performance is a rare treat, and possibly the ideal place for newcomers to start. This set is as intimate, personal, and up-front as The Residents had ever been before or have been since. Among the superb performances are: “Where Is She?” from the Census Taker soundtrack, “Monkey and Bunny” from the album with Renaldo and the Loaf, a suite of songs from The Commercial Album, “Hello Skinny / Constantinople” from Duck Stab/Buster and Glen, the complex “Walter Westinghouse” operetta from Fingerprince, and the anthemic finale, “Cry for the Fire” from The Big Bubble. This tour was a defining point in The Residents’ career, and this album is one no fan should be without.

 And so you ask: Is this stuff for you? Only one way to find out...

Filed under: New releases, Issue 20, 1999 releases, 1986 recordings, 2000 releases, 1984 recordings

Related artist(s): The Residents, Philip Charles Lithman (Snakefinger)


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