Busted at 3Arena, Dublin, 31st May 2016

“Hey Charlie” said Matt and James, who’d flown specially over to New York to ask a very important question. “It’s been so long, and the masses are baying for a reprise of Crashed The Wedding, and Year 3000. Will you reform Busted with us?”

“Ha, come on guys”, chuckled Charlie, raising his notorious eyebrows. “Busted tour again? Pigs might fly!”

Indeed they might, Charlie – or should we say, they can. A few months later, as a sinister porcine inflatable hovers ominously over the stands of 3Arena, and the three lads take their positions under the stage trapdoors ready to rise up as only noughties pin-ups can, you get the sense that he’s regretting that blasé comment. Busted are back with their ‘Pigs Can Fly’ tour – it’s just a shame that they seem so embarrassed about it.

Let’s be honest. Busted were never really ‘cool’. For their legions of teenage fans, their songs were the soundtrack to Lynx-scented heartbreak, school uniform despair, and the mortification of being spotted with Mum in Tesco. But they were never cool. So it’s a mystery why, in a gig where the setlist is full-on nostalgia, the stage is a bizarre cross between Black Mirror and 1984. The omnipresent looming pig is bad enough – let alone the creepy, static buzzing CCTV images which crackle suddenly on screen – but the fans sporting eyeless pig masks, holed up behind bars? There’s seemingly no link or explanation for this, apart from the name of the tour, and it sits uncomfortably alongside jolly opening numbers Coming Home and Air Hostess.

But sure, we can forgive them the décor. What’s impossible to shake off is the pervasive sense of embarrassment which swirls round the band. Charlie was in his late teens at the height of Busted’s success, but 12 years later here’s a man in his early thirties singing about air hostess-induced hard-ons, and the delights of his teacher’s cleavage. Whilst Matt and James are seemingly content to re-inhabit their 2002 bad-boy/boy next door personas, Charlie fails to play the hormonal heartthrob with any conviction. Who can blame him, really.

Throughout the gig, it seems that Busted are desperately grasping at their former fame, which in 2016 is sadly just out of reach. This manifests itself in increasingly awkward stage ‘banter’. Back in the day, breaks between songs were undoubtedly filled with fangirl screams and general hysteria, but tonight in their absence we have James’ wooden pronouncement that “Dublin, you are good people” and Matt’s single-minded obsession with jumping. Sorry Matt, but nobody is prepared to “jump around and lose their fucking mind” to Thunderbirds Are Go, no matter how much you think it might improve things.  

All the smash hits are there, from the nasal vocals of Who’s David, to the defiant pop-punk of But You Said No, and the crooner harmonies of Meet You There. It’s great on paper, but given the multiple occasions the band pause to doggedly affirm “ISN’T THIS FUN?” and “DUBLIN, YOU ARE REALLY FUN” it’s hard to tell who they’re trying to convince – the crowd or themselves.

Perhaps with their forthcoming third album, Busted will win over a new generation of fans and be able to trade on their new material – but until they do, they will be forever haunted by their awkward teenage selves. It seems a special kind of hell for Charlie, who clearly dreams of musical fulfilment and a lack of misogynist lyrics. Best watch out for those flying pigs.