From seemingly out of left field this summer came Chumbawamba, a self-described anarchist punk collective from Leeds, in the industrial north of England, whose drinking-and-dancing anthem, “Tubthumping,” is the quirk hit of the season, pushing sales of their “Tubthumper” album (Republic/Universal) into the top 10 this week.
The co-ed band brought its bizarre stage show — which can be described as the Spice Girls meets Frankie Goes to Hollywood meets Enya meets “Up With People” after a few pints of ale — to a curious Palace and failed to deliver any substance or revolutionary message, despite its advertised political bent and its reputation in the U.K. as a top-notch live act.
Instead, the 12-year-old group’s antics were buffoonish and boring and, in the face of their nonstop sloganeering, utterly without irony. They took lyrical and theatrical potshots at such easy targets as President Clinton and Prime Minister Tony Blair (“He’s not MY prime minister,” yelled one of the male vocalists), fascists and Nazis, and the Catholic Church. One of the female singers sang “Mary, Mary,” a song about a drunken, sex-hungry nun, while grabbing at her crotch, chugging a beer and parading around in a red nun’s habit.
Chumbawamba’s brief set often felt like a well-rehearsed high school talent show (would that it were “The Gong Show”), as band members raced about in various outfits, shouting silly lyrics about evil drug addicts and other crazy people. The music, heavy on trumpet leads and dance rhythms, was immature and grating and without a hint of spontaneity.