Before any gig a little bit of research is called for. Read some 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 means that when I arrive at the Engine Shed in Lincoln on Thursday, February 16th, my expectations for the night are high and they go even higher when I find 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 calculate 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 change 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 open up with the sly Fun Lovin’ Criminals (what else?) and within a few bars the audience are moving in time to the music. There’s even some singing along going on near me, which is pretty impressive, because it’s not an easy song.
From then on it’s 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, and swanee whistle. His versatility means that the band can play in a wide range of styles from the classic funk soul of Love Unlimited to rock and jazz as required and when he gets that bass out they really rock the joint.
The set is a real 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 gets a huge roar and comes in considerably heavier than I remember it, Korean Bodega is superbly wild, and in between the tunes Morgan takes 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 finishes 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 leave the Criminals on shuffle.