Rancid @ Mandela Hall, Belfast

Wednesday November 28th 2012
Review by Mark Ashby
Photography by Jamie Hunter

In the period between the late 1970s and roughly the mid-1990s, there was one unifying force in the city of Belfast – and that was music.

It brought kids from opposite sides of the sectarian divide together in a common bond and interest… and, sometimes, it brought them together to face a common enemy. In the case of the metalheads and punks – often pitted against each in other cities and locations – the similarities in their two types of music meant many from each community attended gigs of mutual interest… and often led to the two factions teaming up to take on spides waiting to ambush them after shows – and, equally as often, the forces of law and order seeking to enforce same…

It’s a common bond which Runnin’ Riot frontman Colin recalls when he resurrects the old clarion call of “SS RUC” (the RUC was the forerunner of the modern Police Service of Northern Ireland) during the blunt and abrasive ‘Kill The Police’.

Dublin trio The Dubtones had opened proceedings, taking to stage almost immediately after the doors open for this early curfew show and starting to around 50 people who had turned up early enough to their run-of-the-mill traditional ska-flavoured punk. There are moments of the former, such as ‘capture The Flag’ fused with some good old-fashioned examples of the latter, especially the catchy ‘The Cops Are On Their Way’, but, while the growing crowd also grows incrementally in its appreciation, it’s all a bit sterile.

The crowd has grown substantially in size by the time aforementioned local heroes Runnin’ Riot take the stage, and their brand of traditional hardcore Oi is the catalyst for the first pits of the evening: from the opening rallying call of ‘Keep The Faith’ through ‘Kings Of Hate’, ‘Judge, Jury And Executioner’ and the bitter sweet ‘Lost Generation’ to their closing self-titled anthem, this is raw, exciting Buckfast-fuelled streetpunk from the era of the Art College and the WarZone centre.

The biggest reception of the evening, however, is reserved for ‘Alcoholic Heroes’, a tributary paean to two of Northern Ireland’s flawed and ultimately fallen idols – George Best and Alex Higgins.

The hall, including the balcony, is filled to capacity and the anticipation is palpable as Rancid get ready to kick off the UK and Ireland leg of their 20th anniversary tour.

Not the most prolific of bands – they’ve released just seven albums (two of them self-titled) over two decades – it’s perhaps surprising that only two tracks are taken from their most recent offering, 2009’s ‘Let The Dominoes Fall’, with around half their set drawn instead taken from ‘…And Out Come The Wolves’, released almost a decade and a half earlier.
With Tim Armstrong now sporting a shaven, tattooed head and bushy beard, making him look an unshaven Kerry King, and jumping up and down of strategically placed flight cases while slinging his trademark hollowbody Gretsch around with gay abandon, he’s the obvious focal point for the band as they rip through a riotously delivered – and received – set covering the best known and best loved tracks from their two decade long career.

More or less anchored stage right, Lars Frederikson cajols the crowd into an even more frenzied reaction by announcing that “someone suggested we might want to give Belfast a miss on this tour – needless to say that person is now fired!” and then thanking Runnin’ Riot frontman Colin for taking him to see Linfield FC the previous evening… Not that the rammed arena needs much encouragement: nearly everyone is singing along to every word of every song, and the security staff occasionally look like they’re going to lose control given the amount of crowd-surfing (ironically, an activity, somewhat stupidly, banned in this particular venue).

The result is a hugely enjoyable, energetic and energising set from a band who can quite rightly be referred to as legends of the second wave of punk – a band who constantly enervate and innovate without selling out in the same way as contemporaries such as Green Day have unfortunately done. Much respect due.

Set list:
Roots Radicals, Radio,
The Way I Feel,
Maxwell Murder,
Dead Bodies,
Journey To The End Of The East Bay,
11th Hour,
I Wanna Riot,
Last One To Die,
East Bay Night,
Black And Blue,
Old Friend,
St Mary,
The War’s End,
Olympia WA,
Fall Back Down.

Time Bomb, Tenderloin, Ruby Soho