The Boomtown Rats – Nottingham Rock City, Tuesday October 29
Originally written for the Nottingham Post.
In the parallel universe of BBC4’s 1978 Top of the Pops re-runs, The Boomtown Rats are having a good year. As of now, Rat Trap – the first new wave Number One – has just knocked John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John off the top of the charts, making this an ideal time for the first ever Rats reunion.
To get himself back into role, Bob Geldof is spending the tour in an imitation snakeskin suit. He found it festering at the bottom of a drawer, we were told, with a stench that brought back such pungent memories, that he felt compelled to reform the band. It’s a cute myth, if more than a little unlikely.
It’s a role which Geldof hasn’t played for the thick end of thirty years. He’s 62 now, with a reputation as an international humanitarian campaigner that has buried the memories of his hit-making career. Nevertheless, as he told a newspaper last week, if he were writing these songs today, he wouldn’t change a word.
Listening to them again in a packed Rock City, you could see his point. Disturbed teens are still waging indiscriminate shooting sprees (I Don’t Like Mondays), or responding to tough economic times with a me-first, screw-you mindset (Looking After Number One). And if we were worried back then about state surveillance, then in the wake of Edward Snowden’s security leaks, the words of Someone’s Looking At You have never rung so true. “Facebook are selling your details to the highest bidder”, Geldof declared, in his only political harangue of the night.
Fronting a line-up of four original Rats and a couple of new recruits, the singer’s commitment to his material was astonishingly intense. On those old TV clips, he can seem a little gauche, a little try-too-hard – but the 2013 Geldof, for all his Jagger-esque posturing, is a captivatingly effective front man, breathing new life into songs that could otherwise have sounded dated and corny.
They might have ridden into town on the punk rock bandwagon, but the Rats were never much of a punk band at heart. They were always more Springsteen than Strummer, with the pizzazz of an Irish showband and a healthy dollop of Doctor Feelgood’s supercharged rhythm and blues.
The Feelgood connection came through loud and clear on (She’s Gonna) Do You In, as Bob whipped out his harmonica and dropped to his knees, showing surprising instrumental flair. Three songs later, the band dipped into new-wave reggae for Banana Republic, a bitter denunciation of the Irish establishment that caused the Rats to be banned from playing in their home country. “One of the few benefits of age is that sometimes you’re proved right”, said Sir Bob, in a scornful introduction.
Dropped into the middle of the set, I Don’t Like Mondays had everyone roaring the “tell me why” call to Geldof’s response. Similar mayhem greeted Rat Trap, following an extended Mary of the 4th Form whose middle section quoted from I Wanna Be Your Man, Born To Be Wild and John Lee Hooker’s Boom Boom. Dodgy as that might sound on paper, the sequence worked brilliantly on stage.
Saved until the encore, Diamond Smiles reprised the tale of a doomed socialite, whose fate was tragically mirrored twenty years later by Paula Yates. The parallels can’t be lost on Geldof – he said as much in another recent interview – and indeed, there was something about the way we were urged to “sing it for me, sing it louder” that suggested he needed our support.
By this stage, he had more than earned it. Reunion tours are always risky propositions, but as this unexpectedly thrilling show demonstrated, The Boomtown Rats have absolutely made the right call.
Set list: (I Never Loved) Eva Braun, Like Clockwork, Neon Heart, (She’s Gonna) Do You In, Someone’s Looking at You, Joey’s on the Street Again, Banana Republic, She’s So Modern, I Don’t Like Mondays, Close as You’ll Ever Be, When the Night Comes, Mary of the 4th Form, Looking After Number One, Rat Trap, Never Bite The Hand That Feeds, Diamond Smiles, The Boomtown Rats.