Review: Rubberbandits, Soho Theatre

When I set up this website in December the idea was that live reviews would appear on the morning after the gig at the latest. I didn't allow for Limerick's Rubberbandits, who have immediately made me rush off and delete that clause in my mission statement. No other comedy act in years has taxed my critical faculties quite as much as this spoof Irish rap trio. It has taken me a couple of days to get my head around their Soho Theatre show, which runs until February 2.

On the surface the duo fall quite comfortably into the category of pop culture send-ups alongside Flight of the Conchords, but ther troubling aspect of Rubberbandits for me is how they treat class. Call me a frightful snob, but their image, all earthy, raucous vulgarity and cheap sports gear, is pure unadulterated chav. Oh, and did I mention that the two rappers, Blindboy Boatclub and Mr Chrome, wear plastic shopping bags over their heads with cut-out holes so that they can see and sing? It has echoes of IRA balaclavas but might also be to hide their identities because they are signing on.

The real people behind the gobshite stage personae are Dave Chambers (Boatclub) and Bob McGlynn (Chrome). They must be doing something right because apart from major chart and TV success back home and appearances on C4 here they won the Malcolm Hardee Award for Most Original Act on the Fringe at the Edinburgh Festival in 2012. We don't know much about them (or rubber-masked Willie O'DJ on wheels of steel) except that they met at school. I guess if they are genuinely from a Limerick housing estate where horses might canter by at any moment then this all fits together neatly. If, however, they are middle class poseurs, a la the Beastie Boys, then it gets a little more complicated. Having seen them live and slept on it I suspect the truth is somewhere in the middle. 

Things do, however, become a little less complicated if you just want to sit back – or stand, as unusually for comedy, the seats at this venue have been removed for this show – and enjoy slickly delivered hip hop rhythms and sharp, funny, informed, rug-pulling rhymes. Black Man in particular is a wry pastiche of supposedly streetsmart Hollywood movies in which all different ethnic types have to be members of a gang – in their song the 'bandits suddenly realise they have almost every cliché in the book – "I got a Puerto Rican and nervous Jew, intimidating Russian with a fake tattoo..."

As a comedy gig this show certainly has bags, no pun intended, of energy and there is always something to look at. When not bending over to let the gathering pools of sweat drip out of their headgear the frontmen trade self-deprecating banter and lark about, all excited to be appearing in London. When they sing their YouTube hit videos run on a screen behind them, which is slightly ditracting but also handy if you don't want to watch two men letting the sweat drip out of their headgear. 

While they are not always as lyrically ambitious as their talents suggest they can be – I Wanna Fight Your Father is about exactly what the title says and is done twice, once as a high-energy rap, once in a slow gaelic drawl – they regularly manage to surprise. One fully expects the ostensibly child-friendly Spoiling Ivan to close with a paedophile pay-off but it cannily never comes along. Up the Ra, taking the mick out of armchair Republicans is a little more befuddling, particularly when two hooded drummer boys march onstage, but let's give them the benefit of the satirical doubt on this one.

In fact that's what I've decided to do for the whole gig. Chambers and McGlynn are clearly very smart, whatever their background. Their whipsmart wordplay on songs such as the yob culture mocking Liar, Liar Danny Dyer reminds me more of post-punk pop culture loons Half Man Half Biscuit than Goldie Looking Chain. I don't know if Rubberbandits are the real deal but as long as they don't turn out to be old Etonian chums of David Cameron they get my vote. 




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