The Residents' 50th Anniversary Is a Breath of Fresh Air During COVID-19

Josh Keppel/NBC Bay Area

Just like every band – or every person – on earth, The Residents have been dramatically affected by COVID-19.  

This summer was supposed to be our return to "normal" – kind of a weird phrase to use in an article about The Residents.

Things didn't go as planned. The Residents were chomping at the bit to celebrate their 50th anniversary by hitting the road for a U.S. and European tour, but COVID-19 had other ideas.  

All U.S. tour dates had to be cancelled except for three shows – all of them in California.  

The shows were at the Castro Theater in San Francisco, The Regent in Los Angeles and The Rio in Santa Cruz.  

I had the rare pleasure of going to the San Francisco show. It was weird going to an indoor show for the first time in a year and a half.  

Josh Keppel/NBC Bay Area

Despite proof of vaccination, masks and social distancing being required, it still just feels strange and unsettling to be indoors with other people at this point. But The Residents are one of the few bands who could lure me into the dangerous indoors.  

After the show, I felt a real sense of elation though. I saw so many old friends that it felt like a party and a reunion rolled into one. This is what a good Friday night should feel like. It almost felt like the before times. 

Over the course of their five-decade history, The Residents have never failed to surprise, delight and impress me.  

You never know what you're going to get with a Residents show. Each tour is completely different from the one before.  

Josh Keppel/NBC Bay Area

There might be a few similar songs played in setlists, but the way the band looks and the way the music is performed are dramatically different each time.  

The band uses elaborate staging and different multimedia effects like video projections and a variety of props in concerts, which are performance art events as much as live shows.  

Long before COVID-19, The Residents wore masks for every live performance. In fact, most fans don’t know what anyone in the band looks like or even how many different members have been in the group over the years.  

Their identities are one of the most closely guarded secrets in the music industry. The masks and costumes they wear are freakishly strange and over the top. 

I've seen them perform as giant eyeballs wearing top hats and tuxedos, giant rabbits, and psychedelic bird creatures with long beaks.  

The multimedia art onslaught is one of the best parts of a Residents show. They have so much more to offer than just their music.  

But the music stands on its own and is just as unrelenting, surreal and surprising as the visual elements of their shows. 

Over the course of their career they have recorded over 60 albums, including classics such as "Duck Stab" and "The Commercial Album." When you put all these elements together it creates a truly unique live experience that is different from any other show you will ever see. 

Josh Keppel/NBC Bay Area

I was really looking forward to this tour because, besides playing tracks from their new album "Metal, Meat, & Bone," the band played songs from "Duck Stab" and "Third Reich ‘n Roll," two of my very favorite Residents albums.  

The stage at the Castro had a psychedelic zebra stripe backdrop and The Residents came out wearing black suits with devilish black dog masks complete with glowing eyes.  

The Residents are a four-piece these days with drums, guitar, keyboards and a vocalist. They launched into their new album "Metal, Meat, & Bone."

The songs were interspersed with spoken word dramatic monologues by a withered old man that were projected onto a gigantic circular screen at center stage.  

The album told stories of American gothic horror. Moments of melodic beauty were juxtaposed with rave-ups of epic sonic Sturm und Drang. Smooth pop textures were punctuated by slabs of experimental noise. 

Josh Keppel/NBC Bay Area

After an intermission, the band came out wearing red or white suits covered with hundreds of tiny eyeballs and the second set started with a harsh industrial version of "Blue Rosebuds." 

Then they slipped into a similarly mutated "Lizard Lady." The hits just kept coming: "Laughing Song," "Bach Is Dead," "Sinister Exaggerator," "Weight Lifting Lulu." The Residents just kept ripping through the "Duck Stab" album with an otherworldly fury.

Behind them, the circular screen kept churning and gurgling with a nonstop shifting montage culled from 50 years of The Residents' surrealist imagery. The set ended with an especially deranged and epic "Constantinople." 

The band quickly returned and launched into an encore performance of their classic masterpiece: "Third Reich ‘n Roll." It was kind of a free form interpretation of the album that nonetheless stayed true to the cracked bizzarro beauty of the original. 

This was a great show. I just hope that a few months down the road they can actually take it on the road and show it to more people. 

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