On Stage: Entertaining, but always a mystery — The Residents

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

The Residents

There are not many bands that can go out on a 50th anniversary tour – and there are not many bands like The Residents.

On March 31, The Residents headline a show at the Foundry at Fillmore Philadelphia (1100 Canal Street, Philadelphia, 215-309-0150, www.thefillmorephilly.com) as part of their 2023 50thanniversary tour.

The Residents are a band from San Francisco. They have been around since the early 1970s and have never revealed the identity of any of their members. Their music has encompassed an amazing array of styles but has always been instantly recognizable as the work of The Residents. They are musical pranksters and serious musicians – simultaneously.

In keeping with The Residents’ tradition, the musicians onstage will conceal their identities. The band’s members have always worn disguises or costumes when they’ve performed — frequently the tuxedo and eyeball-head-with-top-hat outfits that have become the band’s trademark look.

After starting in Louisiana, The Residents moved to San Francisco and founded Ralph Records in 1972. A few years later, some of the band’s old friends from Shreveport moved to Bay Area and began managing the group so that The Residents would be free from the business end of things. Those friends became The Cryptic Corporation, which has managed the band ever since.

As would be expected from a band that has remained anonymous for so long, The Residents do not do interviews. However, the band does communicate through its spokesperson at the Cryptic Corporation — Homer Flynn (who might himself be a member of The Residents, but, even if he were, would never admit it).

Every album by The Residents is totally different than the one that preceded it yet, at the same time, is instantly recognizably The Residents. The Residents do not push the boundary of rock music — they step outside the boundary and pull it toward them.

Every tour by The Residents’ album is totally different than the one that preceded it yet – and totally different from any other tour by a rack band.

The official inception of the Residents was the release of “Meet the Residents” in 1974, but members of the group had worked together since 1969 or perhaps earlier. The band is known for its wide range of named guest stars and collaborators, its multitude of concept albums, its ambitious multimedia, audiovisual, and stage projects and the mystery surrounding much of its activities, from its history as a band to the identity of its members.

The band has consistently stated that it took its name from a rejection letter that it had received from Warner Bros. Records. They sent the label a demo tape anonymously and the rejection letter that followed simply addressed them as “Residents.”

For decades, The Residents “officially” had four members – no matter how many members appeared on stage. In recent years, the Residents had just three members on stage. The quartet had become a power trio – strings, keyboards and the singer.

“The Residents have gone from being a three-piece back to being a four-piece,” said Flynn, during a phone interview Tuesday from a tour stop in Boston.

The current line-up features a longtime band guitarist, a musical director/keyboardist, a drummer and a vocalist who has been with the band for a half-century.

This tour had its origin several years ago but, because of COVID-19, never got going until a European phase late last year.

“We’re branding this tour as ‘Faceless Forever 50th Anniversary Tour,’” said Flynn, who accompanies the band on tour.

“There is confusion from cancelling and rescheduling it two times. Originally, it was going to be the ‘Dog Stab Tour.’ The ‘Metal, Meat & Bone’ album was new.”

For this tour, there is whole new set of Flynn-designed costumes.

According to Flynn, the ones originally designed for the scuttled Dog Stab! tours have been retired because they were created primarily for the “Metal, Meat & Bone” album and were deemed inappropriate for the 50th Anniversary Tour.

First announced under the title “Dog Stab!” and slated to start in April 2020, the tour originally showcased the band’s 2020 studio album “Metal, Meat & Bone” and the classic albums “Duck Stab!/Buster & Glen” and “The Third Reich ‘n Roll.”

“Dog Stab!” was postponed in March 2020 following the global spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, eventually being rescheduled to April and May 2021. As the pandemic continued into 2021, these dates were again postponed.

The tour was then expected to begin in August 2021with a show at the Wonder Ballroom in Portland, Oregon but a week before the show it was announced that almost all dates on the North American leg of the tour would be cancelled.

“Dog Stab!” finally commenced on September 15, 2021, with three American shows (Los Angeles, San Francisco and Santa Cruz) going ahead as scheduled.

After further postponements, the now retitled “Faceless Forever Tour” resumed with a special preview performance at the Mill Valley Film Festival in October 2022 followed by shows in Europe and the United Kingdom in January and February 2023. Most shows were preceded by a screening of The Residents’ 2022 feature film, “Triple Trouble.”

“The show’s set list has changed a lot,” said Flynn. “Originally, it was going to be ‘Metal, Meat & Bone’ exclusively with an extended encore for ‘Duck Stab.’ For the next version, we cut down ‘Metal, Meat & Bone’ and extended ‘Duck Stab.’ It got closer to our 50th anniversary tour so a lot of the previous ‘Metal, Meat & Bone’/’Duck Stab’ material got kidditzed.

“For a 50th anniversary retrospective, it made sense to keep a healthy portion from those two albums. The rest came from what The Residents wanted to play – all the way back to ‘Meet the Residents.’”

“Meet the Residents,” the debut studio album by The Residents, was released on April 1, 1974, through Ralph Records.

“50 years – that’s absolutely mind-boggling,” said Flynn, who has been involved with The Residents, Ralph Records and Cryptic Corporation since the very beginning.

“Right before this tour, we did a special 50th anniversary show at the San Francisco Conservatory in January. We had a lot of guest artists in – including 31 girls aged 16-17 from the San Francisco Girls Chorus. Edwin Outwater, a classical conductor from the San Francisco Conservatory is a huge fan of The Residents.

“He contacted us and wanted to do a collaboration The girls from the chorus sang backup on six or seven songs. When they sang on ‘Santa Dog’ and ‘Constantinople,’ it was an amazing feeling.”

The show at The Foundry may or may not have a screening of “Triple Trouble.”

“The screening of the film all comes down to the promoter,” said Flynn. “A lot of it comes down to the set up for the projections – whether or not the venue can handle it.”

At noon on March 31, The Residents will be performing a free show in Philadelphia as part of WXPN’s Free At Noon series.

Every Free At Noon performance is broadcast live and can be heard on 88.5 FM in Philadelphia, 88.7 FM York/Lancaster, 90.5 FM Worton/Baltimore, 91.9 FM North Jersey/Poconos, 99.7 FM Harrisburg, and 104.9 FM Lehigh Valley. The concert is also available to stream at XPN.org and through the WXPN Alexa skill on Echo and Echo Dot.

Video link for The Residents — https://youtu.be/69x9SLZ0FEQ.

The show at the Foundry will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35.

Other upcoming shows at the Foundry are Circa Waves on March 30, Slacker University on April 1, Nick Lutsko on April 3, and Verite on April 5.

Alligator Records artists Tinsley Ellis and Marcia Ball are current masters in the blues music scene. Both have headlined shows in concert halls and clubs – as well as blues festivals – for many years.

Now, they have joined forces for a special tour with an interesting difference.

On March 30, Ellis and Ball will bring their “Acoustic Songs and Stories Tour” to the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, www.st94.com).

Each artist will play a solo set, and to close the evening they will join forces and share some songs and stories together.

Ellis plans to perform many of his most popular songs, plus Delta blues covers and classics by artists like Gregg Allman, Bob Dylan and Leo Kottke, on his 1937 National Steel and 1969 Martin D-35 guitars. Ball will play piano and sing her often raucous and sometimes touching original songs full of the characters and places that shaped her. They will weave the music together with stories from their years on stage and on the road.

Ellis intertwines his music with interesting, engaging and humorous stories from the more than 40 years he spent on stage, in motels and truck stops. His most recent Alligator Records release and 20th album is 2022’s “Devil May Care.”

“In my solo acoustic set, I talk about how I write songs,” said Ellis, during a recent phone interview while he was driving through Nebraska after finishing the West Coast leg of this tour.

“I talk about and play Delta blues and do great quirky covers. I’m playing slide guitar on a National Steel.

“Marcia and I did shows out west and then she flew home. I’m driving back to Atlanta and stopping for shows in Colorado, Omaha and St. Louis. I wanted to make a tour of it.

“I was playing a solo acoustic tour in October last year. I really enjoyed it and the fans liked it. I talked to my business people, and we came up with the idea of doing it with somebody else. I called Marcia and she was thinking the same thing.”

In March of 2020, when the pandemic first struck, Tinsley suddenly found himself off the road and sorely missing being onstage and connecting with a live audience.

In January, Ellis had launched a tour to promote his 2020 release, “Ice Cream in Hell.” By March, he was forced to cancel the tour only six weeks into the 60-date run. After being forced off the road, he focused on creating new music and staying in touch with his legion of worldwide fans until he could get back on stage.

He almost immediately began composing on amps and guitars that he hadn’t used for decades. He explored obscure studio and live recordings from some of his greatest musical heroes, such as the Allman Brothers, Freddie King, Michael Bloomfield, B.B. King and beyond, and was inspired by his favorite artists all over again.

In the course of a year, Ellis had written over 200 new songs. He shared some of them with his fans with weekly online performances. He whittled the songs down to 10, and the result was “Devil May Care.”

According to Ellis, “The goal was to make the guitar sing.”

Ellis is among the blues world’s best loved, hardest working and most well-traveled statesmen. His album, “Winning Hand,” debuted at Number 1 on the Billboard Blues Chart when it was released in 2018.

Since his first Alligator album 30 years ago, Ellis has become a bona fide worldwide guitar hero. Ellis has performed in all 50 United States as well as in Canada, Western and Eastern Europe, Australia and South America — picking up legions of fans with his guitar virtuosity, passionate vocals and memorable original songs.
“I started in 1979 so this is my 44th year on the road,” said Ellis. “It’s great to be playing shows. I think I’ll do it forever.”

Born in Atlanta in 1957, Ellis was raised in southern Florida. He found the blues through the back door of British Invasion bands like The Yardbirds, The Animals, Cream, The Rolling Stones and Southern rockers like The Allman Brothers. As he discovered the roots of these bands, he attended shows by B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and every other blues artist who came through town.

Already an accomplished teenaged musician, Ellis returned to Atlanta and started playing with local bands. In 1981, along with veteran blues singer and harpist Chicago Bob Nelson, Tinsley formed The Heartfixers, a group that would become Atlanta’s top-drawing blues band. After cutting three Heartfixers albums for the Landslide label, Ellis was ready to head out on his own.

Now, Ellis has 20 albums in his discography – ranging from “The Heartfixers” in 1982 to “Devil May Care” in 2022.

In 18 months during the pandemic, he composed 200 new songs. He contacted longtime friend, keyboardist and producer Kevin McKendree and booked time at his Franklin, Tennessee studio, then culled his massive song list down to 10 tunes.

“Albert King, Mike Bloomfield, B.B. King – they were inspirations for my new songs,” said Ellis. “And some of the songs on the album were inspired by the Allman Brothers. Another song on the album – ‘Don’t Bury Your Love’ – was inspired by ‘I’ll Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know’ by the original lineup of Blood, Sweat & Tears.

“I recorded the album at The Rockhouse, Kevin McKendree’s studio in Tennessee. I used my home studio for the guitar soloing. I handled the songs and Kevin handled the sound of it. Kevin and I have been working together for more than 20 years.”

Now, Ellis is logging time working with Marcia Ball.

“We each play our set and then we play together,” said Ellis. “With this particular pairing, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Her solo work on piano is a beautiful thing.”

Ball is also enjoying this two-pronged, two-artist tour.

Marcia Ball

“I had a wonderful time on the West Coast run,” said Ball, during a phone interview the same day from her home in Austin, Texas.

“After I finish this tour in April, I’ll be playing the Jazz Fest in New Orleans on May 5.”

If you like your music with a southern vibe – especially music with its roots in the myriad of styles found in New Orleans – then you need to check out Marcia Ball’s show.
Ball is still touring her latest album, “Shine Bright,” which was released late 2018 on Alligator Records and produced by Los Lobos’ sax player Steve Berlin.

“In 2019, we toured all year,” said Ball. “We were out the whole month of February in 2020.

“The first week of March, I was in Jamaica. My husband was calling me every day to come home because of the pandemic and what was happening.

“I came back because I didn’t want to get stranded in Jamaica. I got home February 9th. I did a gig on the 11th and then everything shut down completely. Prior to the shutdown, I had steady work – almost 100 shows a year.”
With no concerts on her calendar, Ball found other things to do during the pandemic shutdown.

“We got a dog during the pandemic – a dog named Shady,” said Ball. “We did a lot of home maintenance. We did a lot of walking around our neighborhood in Austin. And I built a boat with my grandson.

“I also did quite a bit of streaming. I would get called to do a song for an event – like the Boogie Woogie Festival in Cincinnati – and to do songs for different fundraisers.

“I also wrote a lot of songs for a musical. The author is Lawrence White. It’s a play, a book, a musical and a podcast. It’s tentatively titled ‘Mr. Texas’ and it’s about Texas politics. It’s a comedy and it’s a tragedy.

“When it looked like it was opening up in sprung 2021, I booked shows for the fall – and then had to cancel them. We went out in October 2021 on a co-billed tour with Tommy Castro. That was really our breakout. It’s been pretty steady since. We’re still doing songs from ‘Shine Bright.’”

“Shine Bright” was produced by Steve Berlin, sax player for Los Lobos who graduated from nearby Abington High School.

“We recorded part of it in Louisiana and did eight songs in Austin,” said Ball.

“I’ve known Steve for a while. He was at an event in Austin, and I thought – if he’s coming to Austin, maybe we can get together and do some recording. He did have some time and he was happy to do it.”
According to Ball, “With ‘Shine Bright,’ I wanted to make the best Marcia Ball record I could make. It is a ridiculously hopeful, cheerful record.”

In doing so, she has put together the most musically substantial, hopeful and uplifting set of songs of her five-decade career. “Shine Bright” contains 12 songs (including nine originals), ranging from the title track’s rousing appeal for public and private acts of courage to the upbeat call to action of “Pots and Pans,” a song inspired by renowned Texas political writer and humorist Molly Ivins.

“In Louisiana, we recorded at a studio called Dockside Studio in Maurice,” said Ball, who was named Texas’ “State Musician” this year. “It’s a legendary studio. It’s where B.B. King recorded ‘Blues on the Bayou’ and it’s also where Buckwheat Zydeco made a lot of records.”

Over the years, there have been several stellar piano players from Louisiana who have made the region’s blend of blues, soul and swamp boogie famous around the world. The list is mostly male-dominated — Fats Domino, Huey “Piano” Smith, Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, Professor Longhair — but also includes Marcia Ball.

Ball’s music has always been able to blend Gulf Coast blues, New Orleans R&B, swampy Louisiana ballads, and jumping, Tex-­‐Mex flavored zydeco into a one­‐of­‐a­‐kind musical gumbo — a sound she has been perfecting over the course of her legendary career.

Ball received the 2014 Blues Music Award (BMA) for the Pinetop Perkins Piano Player of the Year. She has now won a total of 10 BMAs and has received a whopping 44 nominations. Ball recently received a 2015 Living Blues Readers’ Poll Award for Most Outstanding Musician (Keyboard) and now holds nine Living Blues Awards in all.

She was inducted into the Gulf Coast Hall of Fame in 2010 and into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2012. This year, she was inducted into the Austin City Limits Hall of Fame – along with Los Lobos and Ray Charles.

Ball released her first album in 1972. Her career is still going full-tilt 46 years later and her popularity continues to grow.
It was back in the early 1970s when she immersed herself in the music of the great New Orleans piano players — especially Professor Longhair. Her solo album debut was a country-rock album called “Circuit Queen” that was released in 1978 on Capitol Records.

Before long, Ball developed her own sound which was much more in line with the sweat-drenched music played in clubs in the Texas-Louisiana border region than with traditional country music. She released six critically acclaimed albums on the Rounder label during the 1980s and 1990s.

The Louisiana vibe became more pronounced when she moved to Alligator Records in 2001. She has recorded seven albums for Alligator, including “Roadside Attractions”, which received a 2011 Grammy Award nomination in the Best Blues Album category.

Ball and her band members all have roots in the Louisiana/Texas music scene.

“I grew up in Louisiana,” said Ball. “I was listening to New Orleans music, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis. I also listened to a lot of blues musicians who did gigs in Baton Rouge. I have a lot of R&B in my background along with the great legacy of Delta music.”

Now, she and Ellis are working together on something special.

“It was Tinsley’s idea,” said Ball. “He approached me. He had been doing solo gigs – acoustic and stories – and he invited me to come along.

“Playing with a band is a musical challenge. With this, I get to dig around and play things I haven’t played in years. There aren’t people dancing so I can tell stories. I keep adding more songs. I’m digging them up.

“When we play together, it’s a mix of his songs and my songs. At soundcheck, we’ll talk about songs to do. Some are his, some are mine and some are New Orleans standards.”

Video link for Tinsley Ellis – https://youtu.be/4cS0sSyEHrM.

Video link for Marcia Ball – https://youtu.be/kqB8PqOORls.

The show at the Sellersville Theater on March 30 will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35 and $55.

Other upcoming shows at the Sellersville Theater are Spyro Gyra on March 31, EXTC on April 1, Leo Kottke on April 2, Chris Knight on April 4 and Anvil on April 5.

Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) will present California Guitar Trio on March 31 and North Town and Dri Rain on April 1.

Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center (226 North High Street, West Chester, www.uptownwestchester.org) will have Tito Puente Jr. on March 30, Echoes on April 1 and V. Shayne Frederick on April 2.

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