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You may be looking for the 1983 live album, 1984 video, or 2009 DVD bag set of the same name.

The Mole Show (often stylized Mole Show or Moleshow) was the first tour by The Residents, officially debuting in October 1982 and continuing until July 1983.

The Mole Show was designed to showcase the plot of the first two albums of The Mole Trilogy, but was ultimately a financial disaster for the group and resulted in the partial splintering of The Cryptic Corporation and the premature (and to date permanent) abandonment of the Mole Trilogy in 1985.



The Residents, 1982

After a decade of making music together under the name The Residents and only performing live on one occasion in 1976, the group decided to undertake their first tour as a means of dealing with a number of tensions and conflicts that had arisen between the group's members.

The Residents had previously avoided touring or undertaking any serious live performances because their music depended largely on the studio, and the group feared that it would not translate well to stage. Their previous live performances in 1971 and 1976 only seemed to reinforce this notion.

In 1981, the EM-U Emulator was released. The first widely-adopted sampler, the Emulator was a big step forward in electronic music, allowing musicians to reproduce virtually any sound with great precision and control. The Residents began using the Emulator on their 1982 album The Tunes of Two Cities (the second release in their ongoing Mole Trilogy), and realized that the increased freedom the instrument allowed them would remedy a number of the issues they had previously faced in performing live.

The Residents wanted to tour, but they knew that they didn't want to do a standard "rock band" concert. They wanted to produce something more theatrical, and considered producing an opera, a concept which they had been toying with since the development of Not Available in 1974. They also considered revisiting their abandoned attempt to perform the Eskimo album in a series of live performances.

In 1982, the group briefly developed and rehearsed a retrospective "10th Anniversary Show", which was later abandoned (although live studio rehearsals of songs intended for the set list of this unproduced show can be heard on Assorted Secrets and other archival releases). Ultimately, The Residents decided to develop a show based on their current project The Mole Trilogy, composed at that time of 1981's Mark of the Mole, and The Tunes of Two Cities.

These two albums became the basisl for the new show: Mark of the Mole gave the show a plot, and The Tunes of Two Cities provided linking music between "scenes". The Residents also composed and recorded new music for the show, to be included as thematically relevant pre-recorded music to be played during the pre-show, intermission, and after-show; these pieces of music were released in 1982 on the EP Intermission.


The Residents with Penn Jillette, 1983

With a second Emulator and help from EM-U, The Residents began putting together The Mole Show. The successes they had been having with sales meant that The Cryptic Corporation and Ralph Records had grossed about half a million dollars in their eight-year history.

With the capital from the company and the expectation that the tour would pay for itself, The Residents went all out with the production of the show. The band attempted to hire Graeme Whifler, who had worked with them on their abandoned feature film Vileness Fats and a number of their music videos, to direct the show. Whifler, who had never directed a live performance, declined the offer.

The set consisted of huge 21' x 18' backdrops flanking a burlap scrim, behind which The Residents played. The Residents hired Kathleen French to do the choreography and Phil Perkins to design the lighting. The characters from the Mole Trilogy (the Moles and the Chubs) were represented by cut-out figures which were manipulated by stage hands in modified Groucho Marx glasses (with the nostrils removed from the nose, and the moustaches attached to the tip of the nose to allow the wearers to breathe while also preserving their anonymity).[1]

These modified Groucho glasses were also worn by The Residents for much of the performance; the members of the group signed around 75 of the glasses, originally intending to remove them at the end of the performance and throw them into the audience. In the end only one member of the group threw a single pair of the glasses into the audience, and the remaining signed glasses were later sold to fans through mail order by Ralph.[1]

The group hired Penn Jillette, their friend and collaborator on the recent Ralph Records 10th Anniversary Radio Special!, to appear onstage as narrator, providing linking segments to help convey the storyline of the performance. Perkins illuminated the stage from below and behind and used only one spotlight, trained on Jillette, who would come on between numbers to explain what was happening to the audience, usually in an intentionally patronizing and insulting manner.

Early performances

Penn Jillette gagged in a wheelchair, 1982

The first performance of The Mole Show was a warm-up at The House in Santa Monica on April 10th, 1982, in front of an audience of sixty people. This was a music-only performance of the show - no dancers, narrator, or sets - to make sure that the Emulators were up to the task. One known attendee of this show was Matt Groening (later known as the creator of the animated sitcom The Simpsons).[2]

The official opening of the tour was on October 26th at the Kabuki Theatre in San Francisco. The Residents had two sold-out shows there, then moved on for four shows in Los Angeles and one in Pasadena.

The shows were generally well received, though the audiences didn't always know what to make of them. Towards the end of the show the emcee Penn Jillette, having taken pot-shots at the primitive effects and strange story throughout the show, would (apparently) lose his temper, yelling at the performers and storming offstage. After a brief pause, Jillette was then brought back onto the stage gagged, tied to a wheelchair, and wearing Groucho glasses.

In spite of the seemingly confusing narrative, The Mole Show was initially a success for the group. The only technical problem at first up was overheating in the Emulator disc drives due to the eighty-five disc changes necessary in the show, but this was minor in comparison to the trouble they previously experienced trying to emulate their studio sound during previous attempts at live performance. Confident after the successful shows in California and reassured by their new business manager Bill Gerber (who had worked with Devo), The Residents were set to take the show to Europe.


The Residents in The Mole Show

In July, Jay Clem (the business manager and co-founder of The Cryptic Corporation) left the company. He was apparently dissatisfied with the independent music business and went on to establish his own management company. Then, after the Kabuki Theatre shows, the president of The Cryptic Corporation, John Kennedy, announced that he, too, was leaving. He grown tired of pumping money into the group, and the expense of staging The Mole Show was the last straw. To make things worse, he took The Residents' Grove Street studio with him. The entire production ground to a halt, and it was only with the help of friends and family that the tour could continue.

However, another problem came up when the band were preparing to take the show to Europe. The sets were so huge that only a 747 jet could carry them across the Atlantic, causing the struggling group a huge expense. Then, with about twenty people to lodge and feed as they traveled, costs started climbing (they even reduced the number of dancers from four to three to try to cut costs). In order to raise funds ahead of time, the band had sold the merchandising rights for $10,000. At their shows, the merchandise sold well, making far more money than The Residents ever got out of the tour. This decision cut deeply into the tour's ability to pay for itself.

The performances themselves went very well, becoming a critical success and selling out all over Europe. However, the English road crew the band had hired didn't like having to wear the Groucho glasses, and they didn't get along at all with Jillette, who is very strongly anti-smoking, anti-drink, and anti-drugs. In the end, the group had to segregate the buses, with the roadies in the "Party Bus" and Jillette in the "Library Bus".

There were also the usual accidents and thefts one suffers when touring, but the band hadn't allowed for these, and had no leeway in their plans to cope with them. Other problems included Jillette being hospitalised just before a show in Spain with some sort of stomach problem (the group had to get their stage manager to cover the narration for that performance) and, on another occasion, Jillette was attacked on stage by an irate member of the audience while he was tied to the wheelchair.

The Uncle Sam Mole Show

All in all, the Mole Show tour was a nightmare for The Residents. After the last show at Leicester Polytechnic on July 1st 1983, the group vowed never to tour again. They had lost so much money that Ralph Records was in danger of going under, and the group was rescued at the last minute only by an invitation to perform one final Mole Show performance as the opening show of the November New Music America Festival in Washington D.C. At first they refused, but ultimately couldn't afford to pass up the money offered.

Unfortunately, the nightmare wasn't over yet. Their tour manager had failed to pay the English shipping agent, who was holding all of their sets and instruments in England until they could pay $16,000 for their return. The group convinced the shipping agent to take $10,000 up front and the balance after the festival, but even when they paid that cash to the shipping agent, he kept holding out for the balance without sending the gear.

The Residents ended up arriving in Washington without anything, and had to rebuild all of the backdrops and sets from scratch. They hired dancers from a local ballet school, begged an Emulator from EM-U, and had to convince their manager to do the narration because Penn Jillette couldn't make it - all in the last two weeks before the show. They rehearsed at the local YMCA and the dress rehearsal went so badly that they couldn't complete it. Finally, to add insult to injury, the missing equipment showed up from England just hours before showtime, after Gerber had threatened the shipper.

In spite of every indication that it would be as big a disaster as the tour had been, the "Uncle Sam Mole Show" performance was possibly the best performance of the entire tour. The long-unreleased recording of this show features as the fourth disc of the 2019 pREServed six disc collection Mole Box.

End of The Mole Trilogy

After the Uncle Sam Mole Show performance, The Residents left the Mole Trilogy behind temporarily. The project was initially intended in part to help deal with frustrations the group were experiencing, but ended up being far more frustrating than the original problems had been. The whole project had been an amazing critical success - the costumes and sets became part of the permanent collection at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art after the tour - but financially the group were nearly ruined.

The Residents eventually returned to The Mole Trilogy in 1985 with the fourth part of the series, The Big Bubble, but the trilogy was to be left incomplete with no further albums following this release. Despite their vow never to tour again, The Residents eventually followed The Mole Show with their second tour, The 13th Anniversary Show, in 1985. This tour was a far more successful operation which led the group to continue touring regularly for the course of their career.


A map of the group's stops on the first leg of the tour

First leg

  • 10th April 1982 - The House, Santa Monica (music-only performance)
  • 26th October 1982 - Kabuki, San Francisco
  • 27th October 1982 - Kabuki, San Francisco
  • 29th October 1982 - The Roxy, Los Angeles (two shows)
  • 30th October 1982 - The Roxy, Los Angeles (two shows)
  • 31st October 1982 - Perkins Palace, Pasadena

Second leg

  • 23rd May 1983 - Rotation, Hannover
  • 25th May 1983 - Succession, Vienna
  • 26th May 1983 - Succession, Vienna
  • 27th May 1983 - Alabamahalle, Munich
  • 28th May 1983 - Volksbildungsheim, Frankfurt
  • 29th May 1983 - Schumannsaal, Dusseldorf
  • 30th May 1983 - Metropol, Berlin
  • 1st June 1983 - Falkoner Theatre, Copenhagen
  • 2nd June 1983 - Markthalle, Hamburg
  • 3rd June 1983 - Zeche, Bochum
  • 5th June 1983 - Plan K, Brussels
  • 6th June 1983 - Muziekcentrum, Utrecht
  • 7th June 1983 - L'Olympia, Paris
  • 8th June 1983 - Palais D'Hiver, Lyon
  • 9th June 1983 - Volkhaus, Zurich
  • 12th June 1983 - TeatroTenda, Bologna
  • 13th June 1983 - The Rolling Stone, Milan
  • 14th June 1983 - Teatro Apollo, Firenze
  • 17th June 1983 - Salon Cibeles, Barcelona
  • 18th June 1983 - Sala Extases, Valencia
  • 19th June 1983 - Rock Ola, Madrid
  • 20th June 1983 - Rock Ola, Madrid
  • 21st June 1983 - Le Edad De Oro, Madrid
  • 23rd June 1983 - Cinéma Le Fémina, Bordeaux
  • 24th June 1983 - Théâtre Municipal, Poitiers
  • 27th June 1983 - Town Hall, Birmingham
  • 28th June 1983 - Hammersmith Odeon, London
  • 29th June 1983 - Royal Court, Liverpool
  • 30th June 1983 - Queens Hall, Edinburgh
  • 1st July 1983 - Leicester Polytechnic, Leicestershire
  • 7th October 1983 - New Music Festival ("Uncle Sam Mole Show"), Washington

Set list


Taken from the Mole Show LP inner sleeve.

  • Written & Directed by: The Residents
  • Music Written & Played by: The Residents
  • Narrator: Penn Jillette
  • Dancers: Kathleen French, Carol Werner LeMaitre, Sarah McLennan Walker & Chris Van Ralte
  • Vocalist: Nessie Lessons
  • Sound: Scott Fraser
  • Lighting Designer: Philip Perkins
  • Lighting Director: Dan Gillham
  • Stage Manager: Laurence Campling
  • Backdrop Movers: Raoul N.D Seimbote & Eric Knorr
  • Artistic Direction: The Residents
  • Sets & Props: Laurence Campling, Leigh Barbier, Homer Flynn & Hardy Fox.
  • Costumes: Sheenah Timony
  • Tour Manager:  Paul Young
  • Publicist: Mara Mikialian
  • Manager: Bill Gerber/Lookout Management
  • Legal Matters: Evan Medow
  • Business: Siegel & Feldstein
  • Security: Thomas Timony
  • Merchandising: Diane Flynn
  • Merchandising Asst. Ray Paulsen, Sally Lewis, Gary Mikialian, Nancy Baddock & Louise Koskella

Quotes on the Subject

The Residents are looking for new challenges. They've confined themselves to the recording studio for ten years now, and they feel to a great extent that they've done what they want to do there, and their plan all along has been to get more involved in visual mediums as well as just the music. I mean, we feel like we run a fairly efficient operation, we don't give away pounds of cocaine to people, and we keep as much as we can in house. We don't really need such big numbers to survive. Unfortunately, recently, the numbers that we have been getting haven't been as big as they used to be, and those numbers were adequate for us to survive, and to a great extent, we're putting a lot on this Residents' tour to keep things going.

The Residents feel a very strong need to break with the traditional band, people standing up there and playing guitars, concert format and they feel it's about time that people were bored with watching people play their guitars and drums. They want to try to give them something more visual to look at; in terms of this, they're going to have a complete live show, more of a theatrical presentation. There'll be dancers involved in the show actors involved in the show. There will be backdrops, twenty completely painted backdrops for the show, and many props. Just the whole thing will make it more visual and more entertaining.

- Homer Flynn, JJJ Radio Interview, 1982

The main reason to do it is progress. I'm not certain what progress is, but we have decided to push forward, to change, to do something different because it seemed a little boring, and I don't even know if it was possible to continue doing things as we've been doing for the last ten years for the next 10. So we have chosen to be more aggressive and progressive and take on the world with the live performance and a more visually orientated production.

- John Kennedy, JJJ Radio Interview, 1982

We're reshifting emphasis to one group in hopes of making them a half million-selling group, and the only way we saw we could possibly do it was to get them on the road.

- H, JJJ Radio Interview, 1982

I think they think it's time to show the people in the world that they actually have something valid to say, and they feel that the only way to cross over, because radio in America won't play their music, is to go out there to the people and perform for them in some way.

- Thomas Timmony, JJJ Radio Interview, 1982

The Residents have been in San Francisco making records for about 12 years, but they've never performed until now. A couple of reasons behind that. There was a synthesizer invented called the Emulator, which was invented a couple of years ago and allowed The Residents to perform all of their music live. Until now, they had not been able to do that because the music is very difficult to do live. They had been very used to the studio. I also believe they were just ready for a little trip out of San Francisco to go to Europe to see things they'd never seen before. [...]

This show, The Residents' Mole Show, is about the two cultures, The Moles and The Chubs. [...]

The Residents are The Moles. The Residents have lived in San Francisco for the past 20 years in their Happy Home, and now they're out into Another Land that they're not used to. But, as Moles, they're venturing out pretty far.

- Nessie Lessons, Mole Show interview, 1983

After I did a radio special for them when I had never heard of The Residents, they locked me, or had me stay, in a motel room for one week, during which I listened to only Residents music and commented on it into the microphone. I had never heard of them. Then I got a letter from this company that said 'Have you ever heard of The Residents or Ralph Records.' I wrote back and said 'No,' then three days later I got a contract that said 'Do you want to make x amount of money for being put in a room and listening to music.' And I said 'Certainly.' I went in there and listened to the music for one week, and they recorded 50 hours of me talking into a microphone alone, then edited it into an hour and a half radio special. I became a real fan of the music, and then when the live show was coming, I got the same sort of mysterious letter in the mail asking if I wanted to do the live show. I said certainly because by then, I was a fan. They sent me a computer printout of all the lyrics, what the cut-outs would look like, and photos. Then in the script, it said, 'Narrator Penn Jillette comes out and talks, 1 minute', a little while later, 'minute and a half. I would go on to rehearsals and say whatever I felt like saying, and I'd get little letters back that said 'Penn, real good, don't say this. Be a little meaner here.' [...]

I am being used because I'm the kind of person who would have never discovered The Residents without them handpicking me. Even though I am pushed around and manipulated, it's also flattering, even if they want me because I'm so far outside what they do.

I was very taken by how diverse the audiences were in San Francisco, in LA. I'm afraid to say that it felt like people were only there on the opening night because it was the place to be. The nights when I believe the real fans come, it's very diverse. Some people look like your classic hippies and punks and people older than what you'd expect to see at what can loosely be called a Pop Rock show. I was pretty taken with how diverse it was. I was afraid that we would get who liked them this week. But there seem to be many people who seem to know what's going on with The Residents.

I was sure that I and the show were done at the end of the Los Angeles performances because it had gone very well and we had fulfilled everything. I had spent all my time with the press being confused, which seemed to be what they wanted, and they went through a lot of trouble to work around my schedule to do Europe, so now I'm hesitant to say no.

The persona is pretty much what I've always done with my performing, except I'm much more used to being in control. I wrote, directed, produced, and starred in the show I ran in San Francisco. That's a much different experience from working with The Residents, where I have less incite than your average actor. I have nothing. I create all the words I say but have no idea what I'm going for. I'd feel much more manipulated and paranoid if I didn't have some awareness of the big picture. I find a certain amount of charm in picking someone out from a different walk of life and saying, 'You're in charge, you're going to talk to the press.' If I weren't aware of this, I would've had a mental breakdown.

- Penn Jillette, interview, 1983

Related releases

See also

External links and references

  1. 1.0 1.1 Post by Kim Andrews, The Residents unofficial Facebook group, December 31st 2021
  2. Matt Groening, "The Residents Bring The House Down", Reader, April 16th 1982