By Gruff Kennedy, Second year English Literature
'Musically tight as ever', Gruff Kennedy reviews Fun Lovin' Criminals at Bristol's O2 Academy.
The Fun Lovin’ Criminals have been around for over a quarter of a century now, and they look a bit the worse for wear when they arrive on stage. Huey Morgan is in crutches after breaking his ankle, and drummer Frank Benbini gingerly navigates the stairs to his kit. Appearances are deceptive, however, and the Criminals prove that they’ve still got it with an energetic and idiosyncratic set which has the floor at the O2 bouncing to a genuinely alarming extent.
The crowd is mostly middle-aged or older, which feels like the right audience for the Criminals, but students would definitely have had a great time bopping to their genre-bending tunes. Opening act Dj Mateo- longtime Criminals associate Mateo Difontaine- plays an excellent, if bizarre, opening set. There’s plenty of highly danceable superheavy funk and some certifiable classic bangers - special note going to Flash classic 'White Lines', and, intriguingly, 'Stuck in the Middle With You' by Stealers Wheel - but I’ve never seen a DJ segue from DnB directly into 'Wonderwall' before. Still, the man knew his crowd, and he got them riled up good and proper, finishing with some Queen, Prince and, for some reason, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 'Sweet Home Alabama'. I preferred the first half of his set, which was entirely funk, soul and hip-hop, but audience opinion clearly favoured the crowd-pleasers of the second half- and in all fairness, who wouldn’t scream along to Joan Jett with a pint in hand?
The Criminals, musically tight as ever, opened with a blistering cover of Link Wray’s rockabilly classic 'Rumble'. Following that with Neil Diamond’s 'Hello Again' was a brave choice, but they made it work. Thankfully they went straight into 'King of New York', and the classic FLC energy was finally in effect. Morgan and multi-instrumentalist Brian ‘Fast’ Leiser bickered good-naturedly about the setlist, and Morgan mocked the Bristol crowd for being 'fucking tolerant as fuck'; this kind of unrehearsed, slightly messy stage banter is very refreshing, considering how polished pop bands are on stage these days. Huey even took a few minutes to shout out to his wife for putting up with him for all this time, which was genuinely heartwarming.
'Scooby Snacks' came remarkably early in the set considering that it’s undeniably their biggest hit, but perhaps they’re making the point that, actually, they’ve got plenty of other songs worth listening to- and they prove this by keeping the crowd stomping throughout the night with smooth basslines and punchy drums. We’re even treated to a three-song encore, featuring a lovely downbeat acoustic number before finishing on a high with old staples 'Friday Night' and 'The Fun Lovin’ Criminal'. Benbini sprays a bottle of champagne over the front row and Huey makes a point of standing up without the aid of his crutches, to thunderous applause.
You get the sense that they don’t take themselves entirely seriously, but they also clearly share an absolute love of music and performance. Leiser stands out for musical talent, playing two keyboards, the harmonica, flugelhorn, tin whistle and some form of pedal-operated bass synth throughout the evening, but Morgan’s guitar chops are still impressive, and Benbini never misses a beat, even when going for a drink halfway through a song. They may be getting on, yes, but it’s clear that the Criminals are nowhere near losing it; and this raucous gig proves it.
Featured Image: Ian Is Here/ Flickr
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