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The Residents Celebrate 40 Years of ‘Night Flight'

The masters of mask filmed new videos of legendary 'Duck Stab!' songs 

Josh Keppel/NBC Bay Area

The Residents, a notoriously masked group of cult pioneers that has been making underground art and music in San Francisco for 50 years, had quite a year lined up for 2020.  

Tours were booked, tickets were sold, and in January of 2020, The Residents staged a new live performance of their 1988 album "God in Three Persons" at the MOMA in New York, complete with a live band, dancer, and media artist John Sanborn collaborating with director Travis Chamberlain to create a visual feast for the eye. 

Then, well, we all know what came shortly after that, and plans for 2020 were kaput for us all. 

Josh Keppel/NBC Bay Area

Now, more than a year later, The Residents are one of the first bands to be selling tickets for an indoor tour across the U.S. this summer, followed by a winter jaunt through Europe, which is fitting for a group of many firsts, like music videos and CD-ROMs. 

That said, all wasn’t lost for The Residents in 2020. Homer Flynn, manager of The Residents, said via email, "The cancellation of the tour opened up the band’s schedule, allowing them to begin production on a film project that they have been working on for several years. The film, called Triple Trouble, is now well into post production."

But before they head up to Portland, Oregon, to kick off their “Dog Stab!” tour on Aug. 19, The Residents will be featured on the 40th anniversary show of "Night Flight," a TV series that first aired in the 1980s on the USA Network, where The Residents had multiple appearances.  

Josh Keppel/NBC Bay Area

Following a common trend, "Night Flight" now has a streaming service called Night Flight Plus, with monthly and yearly memberships gaining access to a plethora of material from the last 40 years as well as new, exclusive content.  

On Saturday, June 5, Night Flight Plus will debut The Residents' "Duck Stab! Alive!" – "a contemporary recreation of the band’s 1978 DUCK STAB! album," said Flynn. “It’s ‘ALIVE!’ because it was recorded live-in-the-studio over three days.”  

NBC Bay Area was invited into 25th Street Recording studios in Oakland a few weeks ago to take in the scene. After a year of not covering anything indoors, it was interesting to be inside with a group of people in a working environment. Having covered The Residents in the past, it was always normal for them to be in masks, but now we all were. 

Josh Keppel/NBC Bay Area

My first thought at seeing the stage set up was that it felt very current with, the now ubiquitous, ring lights illuminating the completely covered faces of each of the four band members, all donning new outfits similar to the "In Between Dreams" costumes, but with different fabric and headwear.  

Four camera operators slid high-tech red cameras back and forth across overlapping rails, while in the next room, director John Sanborn cued pre-produced background videos for each song, which were then projected onto screens behind the group. Sanborn watched a cluster of monitors as it all unfolded before him. 

In between the cameras and the band were four dancers wearing black coveralls with, what appeared to be, black 3D-printed duck masks. In their hands were a hodgepodge of cell phones, selfie sticks and gimbals they used to film The Residents while moving around them, constantly switching perspectives in a fluid, sometimes erratic paparazzi performance, which also gave a modern day edge.  

Josh Keppel/NBC Bay Area

Sanborn had to get the final cut finished and approved in 10 days. In the editing room, the background video projections were sometimes overlaid onto the images filmed of the band, creating a great effect where the band seems to be in the middle of the footage, which was sometimes decades-old material from The Residents’ extensive video catalogue. 

In the end, everyone seemed happy with the results and happy to have the opportunity to be doing their part of it.

"The Residents were thrilled to be back at work, especially with such a seasoned professional crew,” Flynn said. “The results speak for themselves.” 

Josh Keppel/NBC Bay Area
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