Limerick satirists and ‘Gascunt Artists’ The Rubberbandits have been enjoying a rich vein of success recently, by both contributing a theme song (and show-stealing guest appearances) to Russell Brand’s popular blog ‘The Trews’, and winning a spot on ITV2 for their Takeshi’s-Castle-on-acid creation, ‘The Almost Impossible Gameshow’. However, they found space in their yoke-filled schedule to return for two headline dates at Belfast’s Empire to deliver their ‘Christmas Fistfight’ stage show.
Kicking off proceedings were Belfast rockers Sextradeunion, who played an energetic seven song set featuring the tracks ‘Concrete’, ‘Tranq’ and ‘The Upgrade Element’ from their forthcoming EP. Next up were punks Suckin Diesel, who’s hard rocking performance featured originals such as ‘Rock n Roll’ as well as a winning cover of Body Count’s protest classic, ‘Cop Killer’. Rounding the eclectic support bill was the catchy rap-rock of BeeMickSee and his band. His endearing geekiness struck an immediate chord with the now full and increasingly rowdy Empire crowd, helped by regular audience interaction between numbers like opener ‘We Took A Dive’, ‘Single’ and ‘If This Is Love’. BeeMickSee then borrowed the ‘old hip-hop trick’ of coming into the audience for ‘Natural Scents’, bouncing between fans before returning to the stage to round things off with old favourite ‘Belfast Slang’, before making way for the headliners.
Shortly after the appearance of their suited and rubber masked accomplice Willie O’DJ, Blindboy Boatclub and Mr. Chrome stormed on stage and launched into ‘Antney’s Eye’, an in-depth analysis ‘of the socially awkward moment when you can’t tell if someone has a wonky eye.’ The Bandits have a kinetic stage presence: wearing their trademark Spar bag masks and tracksuits, the even-skinnier-in-the-flesh Mr. Chrome prowled around the imposing Blindboy, adding a hint of theatrical hip-hop menace to proceedings.
Opening with an obscure album cut didn’t exactly set the crowd alight, but next song ‘Hey Mister, Are You A Hipster Or A Hobo?’, with the background screen projecting the accompanying Republic Of Telly music video, saw the crowd on more familiar ground. Sonically, the slick early 90s RnB underscores the song’s lyrics, which in typical Bandit’s fashion veers between bad taste (‘He kinda raped a woman’ really pushes the boundary) and biting social commentary (‘He’s somewhere in his thirties but he acts like a child’ drew nervous laughter from the legions of bearded men in attendance). The line between good and bad taste was walked expertly on ‘Spoiling Ivan’, the bubblegum tale of how Mr Chrome befriended a six year old boy. Told with genuine sweetness and a great pop melody to boot, the crowd were happy to bounce along to the song’s chorus, and Mr Chrome’s parting shot (‘Anyone who has a problem with this song might be a paedophile!’) was met with riotous laughter. Powering on through the gangland parody ‘Black Man’, safe sex ode ‘I Like To Shift Girls’, church-baiting ‘Fight Me At Mass’ and forbidden love story ‘I Want To Fight Your Father’, all with accompanying videos, all drew warm responses from the devoted crowd. The set’s musical highlight came with the disturbing character study of ‘the man who used to look after you when you were younger’, ‘Dad’s Best Friend,’ with Blindboy’s deadpan delivery of his pathetic confessions (‘Picking up the hooker that I like the best/ Crying on her toilet cause my life’s a mess’) over the driving Prodigy style beats being just the right side of unsettling, before causing a furious mosh during the shout along chorus (‘I’m your dad’s best friend/ I’m taking him to Holland for a long weekend’).
Evidently not having one care about controversy, they dedicated their ‘lesson in Irish history’ to Willie Frazer: ‘Up Da Ra’ is a searing takedown of the selective memory and misinformation that permeates through so much rebel music (‘It all started with the great potato famine of 1916 when the British stole our food’). The crowd gleefully chanted along to the ironic Wolfe Tones-borrowing chorus (‘Up the ra, Paul McGrath, take off your bra’), and although the Bandits skipped most of the song’s verses, Blindboy finishing off with ‘a definitive list of IRA membership’ (Shia LaBouef, Ghenghis Khan, Jar Jar Binks and Edward Carson are reputedly among their ranks) provided more than enough laughter. G-funk crowd-pleaser ‘Bag of Glue’ followed, before Blindboy’s showcase, the un-PC fairytale ‘Spastic Hawk.’ Mr Chrome was given his own moment to shine shortly after, welcoming ‘a guest from Hollywood’, before emerging from backstage with his surprisingly lifelike Gabriel Byrne dummy for gay rights anthem ‘Fellas’. The Bandits finished off their main set with their classic (and so far, only) hit, ‘Horse Outside.’ Four years on and almost 14 million Youtube hits later, the Rubberbandits biggest pop culture moment still brought a joyous unison singalong reaction from the Empire.
Returning for the encore last hurrah of Chemical Brothers-esque stomper ‘Double Dropping Yokes With Eamon DeVelera’, the audience happily followed the Bandit’s plea to do their ‘shittest rave dance.’ With another series of The Impossible Gameshow having been commissioned, an upcoming 1916 special on RTE and talk of a Channel 4 Sitcom, whether the Rubberbandits see live gigs as the best platform for their humour remains to be seen. For the meantime, both they and the enraptured Empire crowd seem more than happy for that to be the case.