Before any gig a little bit of research is called for. Read a few interviews and reviews. Do some back catalogue trawling. Sometimes it’s a chore. Sometimes it’s bewildering and baffling. Sometimes it’s painful.
With the Fun Lovin’ Criminals, it’s a case of, “Wow, these guys are great. How come I don’t listen to them more?”
Maybe it’s because I’ve come to associate frontman Huey Morgan with panel shows and 6Music. Maybe I was a late adopter of the whole urban R&B thing. Either way, visiting the FLC back catalogue is an eye opener and a real pleasure. Their fusion of rock, hip-hop and urban jazz still seems very contemporary.
All of which meant that when I arrived at the Engine Shed in Lincoln on Thursday, February 16th, my expectations for the night were high and they went even higher when I found out that the support are The Urban Voodoo Machine, who have been at the top of my must see list for a long time. I have read and edited so many reviews of the Machine over the past few years, all of them glowing, that I find I’m slightly afraid that they have to be a bit of a let down. Can any band be that good?
The answer is that they can. Imagine Tom Waits at his wildest fronting Gogol Bordello with elements of the punkest mariachi ensemble and New Orleans marching band thrown into the mix, and you’ll have something approaching their sound, but it’s not just their sound that matters. I’m a bit suspicious of costume bands. I figure that the fancy dress is usually a cover for some sort of musical deficiency. Over the years it’s been a pretty good rule of thumb but in the case of the UVM it doesn’t apply. Decked out in red and black, with a priest on stand up bass, a zombie on drums, a sequined moll on saxophone and cymbals and a carefully choreographed off kilter madness throughout, the band changed positions and instruments and styles while delivering as good a set of up tempo gypsy stomp as you’ll hear in a very long time. Fantastic stuff.
The Crims opened up with the sly “Fun Lovin’ Criminals” (what else?) and within a few bars the audience were moving in time to the music. There was even some singing along going on near me, which is pretty impressive.
From then on it was classic after classic with the band on great form, Morgan displaying some smart guitar chops, Frank Benbini on drums holding everything together, which is a big responsibility in a funk hip hop band without a bass player (mostly), and ‘Fast’ Brian Leiser on an impressive range of instruments including horns, keyboards, decks, bass and swanee whistle. His versatility meant that the band could play in a wide range of styles from the classic funk soul of “Love Unlimited” to rock and jazz as required.
The set was a crowd pleaser, heavy on the late ‘90s favourites from Come Find Yourself and 100% Colombian with a couple from later albums like Classic Fantastic in the mix for good measure. “Scooby Snacks” got a huge roar and came in considerably heavier than I remember it, “Korean Bodega” was superbly wild, and in between the tunes Morgan took the opportunity to indulge in plenty of banter with the band, the audience in general, and a woman in the front row in a check shirt in particular.
The main set finished with a lounge bar “All The Time In the World” before an encore of “We, The Three”, “Up On The Hill” and “Big Night Out”. Usually on the way home I start my research for my next gig via the iPlayer, but tonight I just left the Criminals on shuffle.