Pop: Glorious Bible bashing

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The Independent Culture

OVER THE last decade, The Residents have chosen to work more in the medium of interactive CD-rom rather than as live performers, so this concert - their first UK appearance since the dazzling Cube-E show at Sadler's Wells about a decade ago - was accompanied by an acute frisson of expectation. Certainly, few other avant-garde artists could expect the roar of acclaim that greeted The Residents as the curtain rose on Wormwood.

Subtitled "Curious Stories From The Bible", Wormwood consists of a series of song-tableaux featuring some of the less charitable episodes of Christianity's core work - as Mr Skull, the band's compere, announced in his introduction, their intent is to show that The Good Book can also be The Bad Book, depending on where you look. The rape of Dinah, the abjection of Jeremiah, Jephthah's celebratory immolation of his daughter - these are viewed with the same appalled fascination as primitive barbaric practices.

As such, the show is merely the latest expression of the anthropological interest that has underpinned The Residents' work since their groundbreaking 1979 album, Eskimo, the project which first saw them adopt the huge, all- seeing eyeball-heads that have since become their trademark. The staging was typically ingenious: four eyeball-headed musicians robed in white surplices playing against a two-stage relief backdrop whose topography altered depending on the colour and aspect of the illumination.

Meanwhile, two singer/dancers in fluorescent robes and pointy-nosed commedia dell'arte masks took turns to act out the various stories, sometimes wielding token props: for the one about God's handwriting, a dancer's arm was transformed into a huge disembodied pink finger, while King David's intimate exposure was represented by a giant penis on a stick.

The same kind of facetious relish applied to Mr Skull's introductions of the various tales: King David, we learned, "created a set of `family values' based on murder, deceit, and sexual conquest", while Jephthah's burning of his daughter was excused with "But you know, if you had just returned home victorious from war, you'd probably barbecue a few of your children too".

The music was as uncompromising as fans have come to expect, with some superb percussion, and a greater emphasis than usual on piercing guitar noise. The second half's longer pieces and more haunting melodies brought the show to a rousing, joyous conclusion with the entire troupe clapping and singing along to their own version of "Old Time Religion": "It was good for making blisters/ On the penises of misters/ Who were molesting their sisters/ So it's good enough for me."

Amen to that.