Heres my take, and it gets weird, but here goes.... some people like ONLY the early stuff, up to the Mole Show and thats it. They might hem and haw about anything after that, some good, but never
as good as the old stuff. I only started listening to em in the early 80s, so the first things I heard were the 80s/90s stuff. The first show I saw was The King and Eye from 2nd row at the same height as the stage. It blew me away. I later saw that same tour in a bigger theater sitting sideways at long tables and while it was still good, the whole of it suffered when I wasn't immersed in the visual. There is a very visual component to most things they do, and when your brain clicks with the whole concept of weirdness going on, they trap you in like no one else. You enter a sort of Residents Land, and no I'm not necessarily talking about psychedelics, I haven't found a precise descriptor and thats sort of the fun for me too. They take you to very specific perspectives, that afterward seem irrelevent and obtuse, but when you're in there its bizarre. Its like when you're at a party and see a friend that you know across the room and you'll point at something else and make a face and they'll totally know what you're talking about? Not cuz you're reading lips, but a subtle gesture eye glare that shares a perspective. Thats how watching a residents show is. They worm little perspectives and gestures into your brain while the stories evolve with the music.
Now, back to those people who ONLY like the early stuff... I think what actually happens in alot of cases is: The stuff that people like best is the first stuff that really takes them into that weird world of theirs. Not necessarily the first thing one hears of the residents. But, after a while you think you've figured out what the residents are trying to do, then a new residents product is seen/heard, except now the new concept is made using a different code language, so the residents fan hears it, but then hesitates to let themselves be immersed in this new weird thing the residents came up with. Or they'll see a huge day-glo penis swinging from some character on stage and start saying "I liked the residents when they did this or that, but now..." They will rationalize why this or that is wrong rather than just capitulating to what is going on, looking at it like theater and following the stories and letting yourself be entertained. If a play has bad costumes and still tells a good story, people will give it credit where due and leave it at that. With the residents, people end up hearing something that maybe feels too dark, like you've suddenly found yourself in a familiar nightmare, and then say "hey, lets go to the bar and get a drink". These same people wouldn't do the same thing at most horror movies. But, the residents can make people uncomfortable and moody, in a dark way, in a bad trip way, or even an I Don't Like This Play way. After a few of those, people shy away. It can take a while to give em another chance and many people have a hard time ever doing so again. Most people don't give them as much of a second chance as they would give any other band that they like. With many other bands, you have half an idea of what will come, and if the band stretches, they might surprise you and that will be even better, or they just won't be up to par, or suck but "hey it was close
to what I thought it would be". With the residents it can be more like "Am I in the mood to jump off a cliff that might take me to uncomfortable places that might literally bother me, making my neck and temples hurt, ending up itchy, scratchy, and impatient to get out of my seat and hey now I've got gum on my shoe." I've always found that if I stick around til the end, nearly all of it is worthwhile. Just some more favorite than others.
I've found these great samplers: