Freak Show(1990)
OverviewTracksLiner NotesLyricsBiographies

After the Cube E tour The Residents were feeling rather dispirited. The last leg of the tour had been plagued with problems and they'd been feeling more and more like what had started out as a piece of musical theatre had turned into an exhibition of bizarre cultural deformities with themselves as the star attraction. "Everyone comes to the freak-show" became a back-stage catch-phrase for the tour. It didn't help that after almost ten years of tours and major projects (not to mention nearly twenty years of albums), the musical press still spent far more time talking about their Eyeball heads than their music.

Building on their fears and worries (a frequent source of inspiration for them) and inspired by such sources as Daniel P. Mannix's book Freaks: We Who Are Not Like Others and the 1932 movie Freaks, they came up with a series of short stories about a troupe of side-show freaks.

The songs which grew out of these don't necessarily tell these stories (though some do) but instead concentrate on the character of the people -- with the reminder that these are people, in spite of their often disturbing appearances. The group also turn the situation upside-down for one song, Lillie. Lillie is a member of the audience who, in spite of being a so-called "normal" person, is so disturbing that she manages to freak the freaks out.

The Residents hired Tony Janssen, who had worked with them on the sound on Cube-E, to help out with the MIDI work on the album. The band had started experimenting with the technology when they were hired to write soundtracks for episodes of Pee-Wee's Playhouse but this was the most extensive use of the synthesizer networking system they had ever undertaken.

The album was fairly successful and The Residents decided to expand on the ideas within it. They teamed up with computer animator Jim Ludtke to produce a promotional video, Harry the Head. As part of their 20th Anniversary celebrations in 1992 they recruited a host of top-notch alternative comix artists to produce a full-color graphic novel based on the characters' songs and stories, which was published by Dark Horse Comics. A special limited-edition hard-cover version also included a single called Blowoff, a fifteen-minute instrumental piece based on musical ideas from Freak Show.

The graphic novel was a hit and was followed by a first for The Residents: a CD-ROM. The interactive program lets the viewer not only explore the actual Freak Show under the big top, but also go backstage to the Freaks' trailers and poke around in their personal belongings and private lives (and see videos for each character). The Residents themselves appear as a freak act and have a trailer for you to explore, which contains a history of the band.

Ty's Freak Show(1991)

On November 17th, 1991, the Japanese computer company NEC staged a special invitation-only concert at the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose. The concert was known as Ty's Freak Show after co-director Ty Roberts and featured The Residents performing songs from the Freak Show album. They were accompanied by Laurie Amat, who had been the song stylist for God in 3 Persons, in her first live performance. The band used costumes left over from The 13th Anniversary Tour and Cube-E which they modified to suit the new songs.

The show was video taped with a new NEC video deck and, as The Residents performed, Todd Rundgren edited the footage into a live video mix right on stage using NEC's Light Source editing software. Those live mixes were later released by Apple Computer in a series of limited edition Quicktime CD-ROMs and also appear as bonus tracks on Twenty Twisted Questions.
Video Taped and mostly released.

Freak Show Graphic Novel(1992)
OverviewContributing ArtistsBlowoff

The Freak Show comic book from Dark Horse Comics features an impressive collection of artists, each illustrating one song from the album (with the exception of Kyle Baker who handles both the opening and closing songs and ties all the others together with his renditions of Tex the Barker).

There is also a special limited hard-cover edition of the comic which was sold with a 13-minute CD called Blowoff, inspired by the songs on Freak Show.

Freak Show CD-ROM(1994)

Freak Show CD-ROM from Voyager Company is an interactive "game" based on the stories behind the freaks in the album. It takes the form of a trip through the Freak Show tent. Upon your arrival Tex the Barker shows you to the displays featuring each of the album's freaks (including The Residents themselves). In the far corner of the tent there is a booth named Pickled Punks, inside which you find a jukebox with displays of eighty-one historical freaks from American sideshows.

If you sneak back behind the tent you can get into the freaks' trailers and poke around in their private possessions, learn their stories, and see the videos associated with each of them. Most of these videos are new to the CD-ROM: only Harry the Head had one before.

The Residents themselves have a trailer, shaped (naturally) like a giant eyeball with a top-hat. It contains a history of the band's music, videos, and performances, with video and audio clips (much of the material was taken from the Twenty Twisted Questions laserdisc, also from Voyager). There is also an interactive version of the Ralph Records Buy Or Die catalog which includes albums, videos, books, t-shirts, posters, and so on.

The entire environment -- tent, trailers, characters -- is modeled and rendered in three dimensions and the transitions from one point of view to the next are fully animated. This work was done by computer animator Jim Ludtke who created the Harry the Head video for the band. The Residents worked closely with Ludtke throughout production, talking three or four times a day and meeting at least once a week, presenting him with ideas one which he'd build.

The final result was enormously successful, making the Top 10 lists for a number of computer magazines and winning several multimedia industry awards. It has been praised for finally showing that CD-ROMs weren't just books with movies in them or movies of books, but something completely new and different.

One of the album's tracks was left off of the CD-ROM: the song Lillie, which is not about any of the freaks but rather a freakish member of the audience. EuroRalph rectified this shortcoming by releasing a special edition of the CD with an extra CD-ROM track containing a video for the song based on the Freak Show Comic Book artwork by Dave McKean.

The Residents also produced a video tape tour of the CD-ROM, for people who don't have computers.

Freak Show Live(1995)

This was an unusual project for The Residents. The stage show itself did not involve the group at all. Instead, the band hired the leader of the Czech band Uz Jsme Doma ("We're Finally Home") to direct the orchestra while seven actors, singers, and dancers performed on stage. Ron Davis, who designed the Cubo-Residents and the Shorty & Shirley puppets for Cube-E as well as Dixie's Story for Bad Day on the Midway, did the set and costume design. The new book The Residents -- Eyeball to Eyeball was released at the November, 1995, premier at the Archa Theatre in Prague.

The orchestra consisted of Miroslav Wanek of Uz Jsme Doma, director; Frantisek Svacina and Valdimir Helebrant, keyboards; Kamil Kruta, bass; Jindrich Dolansky, tenor sax; Lenka Kavalova, cello; Romek Hanzlik, guitar; and Hynek Schneider, drums. Before the show began, Tex the Barker (played by Wayne Doba) called the audience in from the lobby. The stage was set up as a circus tent similar to the one from the Freak Show CD-ROM. Over the stage there was a gallery on which stood three female vocalists, Iva Nachmannov√°, Andrea Jurcova, and Laurie Amat (who first sang with The Residents on God in 3 Persons and was the vocal director of this show). Tex introduced the freaks as they came on stage to sing their songs from the album. Wanda the Worm Woman (Andrea Novakova) played with neon rubber worms; Herman the Human Mole (Vladimir Gut) hid behind the curtain until Tex forced him to show himself; Benny the Bouncing Bump (Miroslav Matyas) did his dance. Harry the Human Head and Jack the Boneless Boy were represented by props and Mickey the Mumbling Midget was not in the show.

The second act moved the action back into the freaks' trailers, again like the CD-ROM. There were four trailers, each painted onto a scrim which turned transparent when the light inside was turned on. During the live performance, unlike in the CD-ROM, the characters in the trailers interact with each other.

A performance of Freak Show Live was taped by CT2, a Czech television station. Some of this footage was released on Kettles of Fish.