Concert Review: The Boomtown Rats — Still Immature and Proud of It

This was a band that took its reunion as a personal challenge to come off as reckless as they did in their prime.

The Boomtown Rats -- circa 2014

The Boomtown Rats — circa 2014. They proved that bad taste is timeless.

By Brett Milano

In 1979 a San Diego schoolgirl shot up her classroom because she didn’t like Mondays. And unless you were directly affected by that tragedy, you probably remember it mainly because some Irish wiseguys wrote a song about it. One of those wiseguys went on to feed the world, and Bob Geldof got to sing “I Don’t Like Mondays” with the Boomtown Rats at the little soiree he put together in 1985, Live Aid.

Oddly, that was about the last anyone heard of the Boomtown Rats, who were then touring a disappointing album (In the Long Grass) and broke up soon afterward. Geldof became a UK tabloid fixture and had a highly spotty solo career, reinventing himself as a punk-folk balladeer. (He last played to a half-full Paradise about six years ago). That was it until last year, when the Boomtown Rats announced a reunion after three decades. They’ve played shows and festivals in the UK, and last weekend they hit the US for exactly two shows, New York on Friday and Boston’s Royale on Sunday.

The shows were a package mini-tour put on by a beer company, with the Rats headlining a trio of Irish bands (We caught Mundi, a polished folk-rock band who came off like Mumford & Sons with more depth and better hooks—and yes, they cracked the obligatory “I don’t like Mundi” joke). And give Geldof credit for knowing how to make an entrance: From the looks of things, he’s spent his long exile studying Mick Jagger (or maybe it was David Johansen) videos: Wearing a newly-grown blond mane of hair and a fake-snakeskin jacket and pants, he strutted, pouted and thrust his hips in a way that few 62-year-old frontmen could get away with. If you only knew Geldof from the Live Aid era or the ponderous solo band, you probably didn’t know that this kind of sexy swagger used to be his trademark.

The band included three more original Rats (guitarist Garry Roberts, drummer Simon Crowe and bassist Pete Briquette) and two stand-ins on co-lead guitar and keyboards; setlist was consistent with the UK shows (so was the snakeskin, which Geldof’s apparently worn at every gig). Musically, the Rats were always hard to pin down: They started out punk and quickly swerved into glam-pop, then took on some Queen-type grandeur before dabbling in funk and reggae (Their producer was Robert John “Mutt” Lange, working out the huge ’80s sound he’d later bring to Def Leppard and Shania Twain). But on Sunday they stuck with the punk, drawing only from the first three of their six albums. “I Never Loved Eva Braun” (in which an aging Hitler muses “Oh yeah, I conquered all those countries”) made a suitably cheeky opener, while the schoolgirl-lusting “Mary of the 4th Form,” the misogynistic “She’s Gonna Do You In” and of course “Mondays” (overemoted as always with only piano accompaniment) all proved that bad taste is timeless.

You’ll have to forgive the encore, a new song called, wait for it, “The Boomtown Rats” that aimed to fuse punk with techno. And you’ll have to forgive one occasion where Geldof took his Jagger fixation too far by attempting to play blues harmonica. Those were the night’s only glitches: This was a band that took its reunion as a personal challenge to come off as reckless as they did in their prime, and it was great to see a reunion show with no maturity about it.

Brett Milano has been covering music in Boston for decades, and is the author of Vinyl Junkies: Adventures in Record Collecting (St. Martins, 2001) and The Sound of Our Town: A History of Boston Rock & Roll (Commonwealth Editions, 2007). He recently returned from New Orleans where he was editor of the music and culture magazine OffBeat.

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