King Cat Theater, 2130 Sixth Ave., 206-269-7444, $32.50
8 p.m. Sat., Nov. 2-Sun., Nov. 3
THE FIRST FULL song on the Residents' latest album, Demons Dance Alone, is called "Life Would Be Wonderful," and although it begins with a vaguely tropical horns-and-hand-slapped-drums intro—the sort of thing that one would expect to preface an hour of TV drama centered on the exploits of a couple of hot Miami cops—it soon rolls into a synthesizer-heavy soothing pop song that's as much like a recent Radiohead track as it is a typical Residents song. Childlike transcendence and elliptical philosophy have long been two of the Residents' strong suits, but most of Demons is, in fact, so gentle, melodic, and passive that it hardly seems like a Residents album at all.
In keeping with a slowly developing trend, the album is more pop-oriented and approachable than their early experimentations, but it's also said to be a direct response to the events of 9/11, and that sentimentality certainly bleeds through. Although there are elements of the ridiculous, the silly, and the oddly hopeful in almost every Residents song ever written, this time around, uncertainty and loss color all 28 tracks. Residents records are nothing if not thematic. But then again, recorded material is at the bottom of the list of things that make the Residents a cultural icon.
Early progenitors of the music video format now bastardized by lesser (much lesser) artists on MTV, the Residents' first film, titled The Third Reich 'n' Roll—a four-minute piece set to a track from their 1976 release of the same name—is in the permanent collection of the New York Museum of Modern Art. Yet it's not for their much-lauded films or visual projects that the Residents are best known, either. If the group can be boiled down to just one of their "products"—albums, videos, films, interactive games, CD-ROMs, or otherwise—that product would have to be their live shows. Sales for their performance events far outnumber the sales for their albums and CDs.
But even that conclusion is incomplete. What the Residents are, at the end of the day, is an idea. An idea with eyeball masks for heads, tuxedos for uniforms, and identities as shrouded in mystery as anything you ever heard about from old man Ripley, but a very good idea nonetheless. A concept that holds the surreal is in fact real, and disguise is one of the most expressive name tags around. That their most current notion is so much more stained with conventional synth-pop and vulnerable sentiments than the avant-garde noise and Dalísque explorations of the subconscious that got them here in the first place might signal that the Residents are an idea whose day has come—or at least that they're an idea that's come even closer to the mainstream. And although longtime fans of their post-punk, no-wave exploits might disagree, for those welcoming a little comfort and some human kindness, that day is probably none too soon.