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Demons Dance Alone – a Residents DVD

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The most interesting thing about the Residents is that in 30 years, they’ve never given out their names or appeared without masks, even during live performances such as the November 2002 New York concert documented here.

Not showing their faces creates a sense of mystery about the band. Also, on a practical level, it means that paying audience members won’t know who to beat up in the parking lot later.

This just isn’t very good on numerous levels. Main thing: there’s not much in the way of SONGS here. If there are no worthwhile songs, then not much else is going to matter. There isn’t much in any of this in the way of a hook.

Nor do the lyrics say much. I couldn’t get a clear meaning out of any of this. There’s an emperor’s new clothes thing here, like you’ll look foolish for not getting the Deep Artistic Statement that they’re obviously making.

Also, these people can’t sing. There’s exactly ONE person on that stage actually capable of carrying a tune in a bucket. We’ll call this anonymous person Girl, as she was the only such on the stage.

On the other hand, there wasn’t much for them to sing. The melodies were pretty same-y. I could hardly tell where they were going with song structures, as I couldn’t remember how most of these songs went even while I was listening to them to even distinguish verses and choruses. It all just runs together in a muddy soup. Ugh.

This music is not, as they would have you believe, really anything avant-garde or experimental. The screechy dissonant stuff might have been experimental (largely in a failed sort of way)- back when the Velvet Underground was doing it 35 years ago. Hint: merely being unpleasant to listen to does not automatically mean that it’s great art. Girl had more of a disaffected German cabaret Marlene Dietrich/Nico thing going in a few places, which was at least a little more listenable.

Their stage show here was somewhat elaborate, but again not very meaningful. OK, so they’re all wearing gothic masks and toting lanterns. Then there was the demon, wandering around with a couple of powerful flashlights to shine in people’s faces. ART!

Most particularly annoying was the lighting. They were performing their shows on a mostly dark stage, other than the lanterns and flashlights. The thing was apparently shot in infrared, and then doctored to put back some color. They go on in the DVD notes about how it was another artistic master stroke. “This process lifted the production out of the concept of a documentary and into the interpretive world of graphic stylization.”

This is just the kind of pretentious nonsense that makes me nuts. It’s just very badly lit video. It just looks bad. Again, merely being unpleasant does not make it artistic. The local high school AV team could have done a better production.

By way of throwing them a bone, I’ll give at least a passing grade to one song, “Ms Wonderful.” Girl cradled the demon in her lap and sang him a lament about the children she was never going to have. This is a discernible meaning. There’s some recognizable emotional content. Also, there’s a somewhat distinctive tune. More like a couple of hooks, really, with not a whole lot of development. Still, it’s somewhat memorable. I’ll probably watch that part again sometime.

Also, in fairness they are an OLD group now. How many musical acts are still making credible new music 30 years on? Paul Simon and Elvis Costello spring to mind, not many others. If the idea of the Residents sounds interesting to you, you’d do better to get some of their earlier stuff, Eskimo, Duck Stab, even Diskomo.

Now, I hate to harsh on the Residents. They’re something of a nostalgia act for me. I was buying their stuff by mail order as a teenager in the early 80s. I as much as bought the 12″ vinyl disco remix of their famous anti-ambient Eskimo album, Diskomo. I even kind of liked it- though in retrospect their late protege Snakefinger was much more musically interesting.

Looking back, it was obviously mostly the IDEA of the Residents that appealed to me. They seemed avant garde, see, and surely none of my dumb Seger and Skynyrd listening classmates would get them. See, I was the only one COOL enough to appreciate this stuff.

Dang, but I was too cool for school. By the time I was getting out of school, though, cool was far less important than musical, and into the ol’ memory trunk go the Residents.

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