Rubberbandits on tour

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Jay Richardson

On their first UK tour, rascally Irish ‘hib-hop’ duo The Rubberbandits present a unique display of musical mischief, with their endearing weirdness and daring fecklessness suggesting they’ll become cult favourites here too.

Currently working with Father Ted director Declan Lowney on Channel 4’s Blaps’ series of online films, the Limerick-based act’s broad appeal derives from big, daft, memorable hooks that celebrate the crude, the criminal and the drug-fuelled copulation of their city’s underclass. A sly wit lurks behind their brash, two-fingered rebellion, and they consistently ramp up the ridiculousness of lilywhite, West Coast pikeys posing as gangster rappers, exemplified by new single Black Man, a danceable plea for somebody, anybody, of Afro-Caribbean origin to add credibility to their crew.

They can’t be dismissed as spoof artists though, simply sending up the genre. They’ve got the rhymes and the stage presence that compel an audience to dance, to crowdsurf and to clamber atop shoulders in recreation of a soaring, handicapped bird of prey. When they rap about teaching Ice Cube to use a hurley stick, it’s from the genuine experience of supporting the ex-NWA man. Kissing him on the lips in front of Snoop Dogg, maybe not so much.

Heads encased in plastic shopping bags, Blindboy Boat Club and the wiry, semi-naked Mr Chrome are joined onstage by DJ Paul Webb, in a latex mask of Limerick politician Willie O’Dea. An obscure figure in the UK, it scarcely stops them from relentlessly lampooning him as a pill-hoovering, IRA-supporting deviant.

In King Tut's Wah Wah in Glasgow, the city where Celtic have just been charged by UEFA over sections of their fanbase’s pro-IRA chanting, Up The Ra carries a palpable charge, with ‘O’Dea"’ wrapping himself in an Irish Tricolour and pulling on a balaclava, his ‘paramilitary lingerie’. Yet the song’s chronicle of Anglo-Irish history and monarch-punching reprisals is so fantastical, and so blinkered in its armchair republicanism, claiming the likes of Oscar Wilde, Margaret Thatcher and even the Reverend Ian Paisley as being ‘in The Ra’, that it’s at once stupefying and hilarious. Still, the joyous, tribal mood of transgression can’t stop one reflecting that, regardless of any satirical intention, it could be coming to football stadia soon, minus the irony.

A screen tends to play the video promo of whichever song is being performed, an amusing adjunct to the live shenanigans. Yet for the song Danny Dyer, pillorying the actor’s East End hardman credentials with its ‘liar, liar!’ chorus and Mr Chrome adopting a mockney sneer, the rave tune stylings are augmented by a hypnotic visual of Dyer’s gurning, severed head revolving at 120rpm. The fact that Mr Chrome and Boatboy, aka Bob McGlynn and Dave Chambers are middle-class lads pretending to be from the wrong side of the tracks, only makes the character assassination seem more arch.

I Wanna Fight Your Father and Spastic Hawk are their attempts to write (relatively) tender songs that retain their characteristic rough edges. Although the former has an unlikely sweetness and affords the elastic-limbed Mr Chrome the chance to demonstrate his high-kicking prowess, and the latter finds Boatboy hitting a falsetto before flapping around as the eponymous hawk in a demented coda, these crowdpleasers lack some of the ambition of their other tracks. Spoiling Ivan, for example, is a touching ballad, a lament from a child molester’s perspective.

With Boatboy suffering a wardrobe malfunction under the swelteringly hot lights and likening the plastic-resetting on his face to ‘putting a condom back on’, if the pair have a signature tune, it’s Bags of Glue, a tribute to intoxication and romance-free rutting. Any post-modern subtlety in this hedonistic bouncer is swiftly absorbed into the sweat dripping down the walls of the throbbing venue. Arguably though, the grim sight of O’Dea affecting to inject his nether-regions and the track Double Dropping Yokes With Éamon De Valera, pulling you into the nu-rave hallucinations of the former Irish president with some truly mind-bending visuals, act as some sort of counter-balance.

After an Irish language reprisal of I Wanna Fight Your Father featuring a sampled lilt of uilleann pipes, only the marvellous Horse Outside could complete the encore, with Mr Chrome momentarily possessed by the crotch-grabbing, limb-flailing spirit of Michael Jackson. Brutally subversive, whatever lyrical wit is obscured by their drum machine, The Rubberbandits’ retain a raw, clownish energy live.

Review date: 21 Nov 2011
Reviewed by: Jay Richardson

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