This is the concert that the Assorted Secrets rehearsals promised. It is more accurately the 10th anniversary show, but was put on hold for three years while they worked on the Mole Trilogy, and then updated to give us this version. This is then, in a way, a retrospective of a retrospective, a revision of the revision. The Residents are looking back to a time in the past during which they looked back at their past, and that can be quite telling.
It’s not a new situation by any means. Any group that has put out more than one greatest hits album has gone through this process. You can only pick about 12-15 songs to represent your best work. It’s a difficult process if any subjectivity is involved (one could simply go with the best-selling singles and call it a day, but that method completely ignores album-only cuts and assumes there are more than 12 singles to start with). Some of the choices are based on radio play, some on fan reaction, and some on artist opinion. This last is the most dangerous, because we end up with a lot of greatest hits albums that include a clunker nobody actually likes, but the songwriter hopes to promote to hit status by surrounding it with confirmed hits.
Several years later, if the band is still active, there will be a need for another compilation and the selections will have to be changed to include more recent offerings. But which from the original set get let go? It could be interesting to ask artists to come up with their ten best songs every year just to see what they would pick. I imagine you’d find the artists that endure will pick mostly from their current projects. Artists who view their best work as moving further into the past are likely to call it quits sooner rather than later.
So we know what The Residents picked three years ago, and we see what they’ve picked this year. Assorted Secrets was entirely material from recent years, Duck Stab being the oldest source (though that does depend on how one places Not Available). With one exception, this collection’s oldest material is from The Commercial Album. The Residents are indicating a preference for more recent material, and that’s a good sign for their longevity. They remain interested in what they are currently doing, and do not long for a return to the past. Even the lone song from their first album (“Smelly Tongues”) has been reimagined, effectively making it new material.
Unlike the Mole Show, this concert feels very relaxed, and it’s obvious The Residents are much more comfortable with this performance. Several factors could be contributing, not the least of which is experience. Part of the tension that came through with the Mole Show could be attributed to the nervousness involved in staging their first major production, another part the material itself. Here, The Residents are familiar with the experience of performing live, and their material is a simple collection of songs, not concerned with telling an overall story or evoking a particular mood other than “enjoy this music.”
Despite their confidence, The Residents have chosen to accentuate unlucky number thirteen with this show, even going so far as to present fourteen songs but purposefully listing two together to get the desired number. So while they are enjoying some success right now, they keep reminding themselves that luck plays a large part and it can all end in a moment.
Looking at this in a larger perspective, what does this mean for the group? They originally wanted to present this show, then became so excited with the Mole Trilogy that everything else got pushed aside. Now here we have a return to that original idea. Is this as practical as “we put in a lot of work, we should see something come of it?” or is it a retreat from theatrical presentation altogether? I guess the 26th Anniversary Show will provide an answer.