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Ever-Quirky Residents Have Eye for Unusual

TIMES STAFF WRITER

No one who has watched him age over the years was surprised to realize that Bob Dylan was turning 60 earlier this month. But Dylan hasn’t spent his career with his head enclosed in a giant eyeball.

The members of the Residents have--and while it has achieved the intended goal of preserving the musicians’ anonymity, it has also concealed the ravages of time. So it’s a bit of a shock to consider that the granddaddys of avant-garde rock could also be real granddaddys.

But do the math--they moved to their San Francisco base from their hometown of Shreveport, La., during the Summer of Love, and they released their first record in 1972. That would put them in the top rung of the baby boomer demographic.

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The age issue is of more than passing interest to the group’s loyal cult of fans. It played a part in getting the Residents to do something that few thought they ever would--perform their vast catalog of vintage material on stage, as they’ll do at Royce Hall on Friday.

“The Residents are getting older, they’re probably not gonna be writing a lot of new touring shows, so this one is designed to have a longer life span,” explains Hardy Fox, a principal in the group’s management company, Cryptic Corp., and a frequent spokesman for the interview-shy artists.

“Partly it’s also an excuse to play old material,” Fox continues. “They’ve always had this opinion that it’s just too boring to go out and play old stuff. This show’s sort of allowed them to cheat, because they’d really like to go play the old material, but felt like their values were too high and mighty or something to do that. So now they have an excuse to do it and they’re having a lot of fun.”

In the “Icky Flix” show, the four Residents and two additional performers play live to an array of the videos that helped forge their reputation as a cutting-edge force. It’s a concert extension of their recent DVD of the same name.

Their Innovations Have Been Influential

Arriving just a year short of the Residents’ 30th anniversary as record-makers, the disc is a reminder of the group’s unsung role in rock. While they’re inevitably outsiders, their innovations have rippled through pop culture, introducing ideas that would be adopted by more mainstream-friendly performers.

They virtually invented the rock video form, and their reputation as early adopters continued with their pioneering work in laser disc, CD-ROM and video games.

Equally influential is the band’s relentless exploration of contemporary culture, which range from recorded deconstructions of American icons such as Hank Williams, James Brown and John Philip Sousa to caustic commentaries on consumer society. In one famous action, they recorded an album of one-minute jingles, then bought commercial spots on a San Francisco rock radio station in order to air them.

But don’t let the current retrospective mode fool you. The Residents are gearing up for a new phase, with an album, a DVD and another project, which Fox declines to reveal, currently under construction.

“There’s no real sense of winding down at all, other than the fact that perhaps they’re smelling the roses a little more these days than when they were younger,” says Fox, who is often suspected of being a Resident himself. “I think to some degree their taste has grown more subtle. They’re not out there hitting people over the head musically as much as they used to.

“As they’ve gotten older they’ve tended to have a narrower scope but a deeper scope. . . . They were doing a lot of experimentation in different directions and the music and the ideas were drawing from a very broad area. Now when they work on a project they tend to get deeper. Content-wise they get under the surface more and do more research. . . . The music isn’t necessarily as wacky and unpredictable.

“I’ve heard them say that at some point they feel like their last album will only be one note, but it will be a very deep note.”

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* The Residents, Friday at Royce Hall, UCLA, 8 p.m. $25 to $35. (310) 825-2101.


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