If You Come Back It’s Better Than It Was Before (Intermission)

Not since Jimi Hendrix has the use of toothpicks been so radically redefined.Last month The Residents performed a series of concerts in California called The Mole Show. All I know is that it’s based on Mark Of The Mole and it is the first time The Residents have performed live. From those facts alone I can surmise that it is not a standard rock and roll show. Usually bands play a selection of hits, and mix it up a little night after night. All indications are that The Mole Show is more of a theatrical production, with sets and actors and the like. I suppose it would be better defined as a musical, albeit with songs that won’t be heard on Broadway or in a film from MGM.

I hadn’t thought of it before, but Mark Of The Mole really would benefit from this kind of presentation. I previously thought that the album lacked clarity and emotional depth (and still do), but if it is placed into the context of a play – in which scripted scenes convey the plot and songs emphasize the established emotion – then it could work quite well. From a practical standpoint, it would be no different from most existing musicals: take a collection of songs that almost (but not quite) tell a story, add those to a play that is too short and melodramatic to be taken seriously, and now you have something people might pay to see.

The Intermission EP describes itself as extraneous, but it fits with the album fairly well. (Maybe they actually meant “extra” and they’ve added extraneous letters to the back cover to fill the available space.) The voices are more natural here, which I find to be an improvement, and the music is clearer overall, but it carries the same texture of the original album. The tracks are helpfully subtitled so that we know where to place them should we want to recreate the full show at home (Processional, Side A, Intermission, Side B, Recessional). However, these can’t simply be songs that were cut from the original album. They are definitely hole-worker style, but there is vast improvement over that album. What The Residents have decided to do is rework Mark Of The Mole into a slicker compact form. One song, “The New Hymn,” is re-recorded from the album to emphasize this point, and the rest of the songs are new, yet they remain familiar.

The cover also states that this is not part three of the Mole trilogy. Part one didn’t identify itself as such, and if part three is going to be a mirror of it, then it too will be unlabeled. Either part three is forthcoming, or it already exists and hasn’t been identified – I would not put it past The Residents to release the albums out of order. The obvious candidate for part three is The Commercial Album, as it sounds most like the non-hole-worker songs from part two. However, that record doesn’t tell a story, nor does its artwork follow the pattern established with the identified Mole trilogy albums. Not Available comes closest artwork-wise, but not close enough, and the sound is all wrong. No, the final piece of this trilogy is still yet to come.

These days I’m not much of a concert-goer. I saw Paul Simon a couple of years ago, and would love to see him with Art Garfunkel now that they’ve reunited, but something tells me the vibe of those shows is quite different from that of a Residents performance. But I am interested, if only to see what an artistic rock band’s take on staged theater would be. And if it is a stage play then it will have to follow a certain set of rules or risk alienating the audience, so on the one hand it will be palatable while on the other we get to see how The Residents reconcile their independent leanings with a well established popular art form. And besides, how often will I have the opportunity to see an anonymous band perform live?