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Bizarro Art-Rock Heroes The Residents Celebrate 50 Years of Weirdness at the Rio

The longtime experimental outfit has kept the identities of individual members unknown since they began

Incorrigible weirdos the Residents play on Saturday, Sept. 18 at the Rio.

Officially, Homer Flynn is the president of the Cryptic Corporation who speaks on behalf of weirdo band the Residents. The identity of the band members is unknown, which has been the case for the entirety of their long career—they are currently celebrating their 50-year anniversary with a string of shows, one of which includes the Rio Theatre on September 18.

However, the Residents’ status as a “band” is a bit up in the air. When asked whether a group of unknown individuals who specialize in audio/video experiments and are best known for the bizarro image of an eyeball head wearing a top hat should be described as a band, a collective or some other entity, Flynn invokes Kurt Vonnegut’s book Mother Night, in which an American WWII spy disguises himself as a Nazi, and eventually turns into a Nazi.

“The moral of the story, which Vonnegut tells you in the foreword, is ‘you are what you pretend to be. So you should be very careful what you pretend to be,’” Flynn says. “With the Residents, they have pretended to be a band so long, they actually have become one.”

This current tour, which they are calling “Dog Stab,” will combine tunes from last year’s Metal, Meat and Bone, as well as two of the group’s classic albums: The Third Reich ‘n’ Roll (1976) and Duck Stab (1978).

Originally, The Third Reich ‘n’ Roll began as a sonic experiment where the Residents imagined what it would sound like if the oddball ’70s Krautrock bands (Can, Neu!, Tangerine Dream) were to interpret standard ’50s and ’60s rock ‘n’ roll songs. They recorded themselves playing on top of well-known tunes, but played really strange avant-garde parts. Later, they mixed out the original songs and kept the weird bits. But as they worked on it, the concept grew darker. They thought about how rock music has pretty much overtaken culture with the force of an army, and how maybe that wasn’t a great thing.

“They started thinking about rock music and how it became such a massive gravitational force, kind of bending all other forms to the rock beat,” Flynn says. “And ultimately, that was how Dick Clark wound up on the cover as Hitler.”

The lead single for The Third Reich ‘n’ Roll was a tense, dissonant cover of the Rolling Stones’ hit “Satisfaction,” which wasn’t on the actual album. But it was the first Residents tune to gain significant interest from what would become their cult following.

“‘Satisfaction’ was one of the first punk records. They weren’t doing punk; they were just doing what they were doing,” Flynn says. “But it certainly got linked to the punk and new wave movement at the time.”

Just a few years later, they released Duck Stab/Buster and Glen, which were EPs at the time, and are now commonly referred to collectively as the Duck Stab LP. Many of their best-known songs were on this release. For years, Primus covered two songs on the album: “Constantinople” and “Hello Skinny.”

In a way, the record was their most simple. They had been working on their masterpiece Eskimo for three years, and weren’t making progress. The idea was to tell a fictitious story based around Inuit culture using just sounds, musical instruments and mumbling gibberish. They worked on Duck Stab as a break from Eskimo’s high-concept approach. With Duck Stab, they created some of the catchiest—albeit eerie and abstract—tunes of their career.

“They’ve always had fragments of things here and there. So it wasn’t like they started from scratch. Some of them were interesting fragments that they hadn’t decided what to do with yet,” Flynn says.

With Duck Stab, the Residents suddenly got lumped in with the post-punk movement, which was certainly adventurous, though not on their level. The group proved that the following year when they finally finished Eskimo. It sold well, despite sounding nothing like what any other band was doing at the time.

The group was just beginning. They released countless albums in the decades that followed, embraced emerging technology in a creative way, and became synonymous with the very idea of weird music.

“I think the version of them that exists right now is probably the best band they’ve had. It’s debatable from anybody—is this the best version or not? I think it’s definitely a very good band at this point,” Flynn says.

The Residents play at 8pm on Saturday, Sept. 18 at the Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz, $34.65. 831-423-8209.

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