Gig Review – The Fun Loving Criminals, Engine Rooms
Review – The Fun Lovin’ Criminals at The Engine Rooms, Southampton
The Fun Lovin’ Criminals
A reworking of the Bobby Womack / Georgie Fame classic; ‘Daylight’ features a guest appearance from renowned vocalist Rowetta of The Happy Mondays. ‘Daylight’ is the lead single lifted from forthcoming album ‘Another Mimosa’, in the 20th anniversary year of their cult album ‘Mimosa’. A variation on the theme of the 1999 album, which became a cult classic with Crims fans for featuring clever re-imaginings of classic covers, remixes and rarities, ‘Another Mimosa’ draws on their seminal influences from the last 20 years.
“Another Mimosa is a continuation of a long tradition of the FLC paying homage to those great songwriters that we stand on the shoulders of,” notes Huey, “from our love of hip hop, to soul to jazz and rock we humbly offer our fans another taste of our unique cocktail.”
Recorded in London’s Gibson Studios with life-long “fourth member”, the Grammy-award winning engineer Tim Latham (Hamilton soundtrack, A Tribe Called Quest, De le Soul, Lou Reed), ‘Another Mimosa’ is a collection of beautifully crafted, eclectic ‘original covers’. From Tom Petty’s ‘Mary Janes Last Dance’ switched up with HipHop beats and a classic Rock influence, to the raw blues of Freddie King’s “Going Down’; Ice Cube’s classic “You Know How We Do It” is made their own with Huey’s smoky drawl and the grace of Neil Diamonds’ “Hello Again” receives the FLC treatment. Alongside a high energy reworking of their own ‘Love Unlimited’ and ‘Southside’ and a brand new FLC track ‘Sunset’; it’s an album that turns charms and intrigues.
The band performed at The Engine Rooms in Southampton on the fourth date of their 16-date UK/European tour. The doors opened at 7.30 and the venue filled up over the next 30 minutes with a primarily middle-aged audience – late 30’s to early 50s. This is about as surprising as the sun rising. This audience is a similar age to the band and would have hit their musical formative years between the Loco release and the Mimosa release more than likely.
The FLC didn’t have a support band, they had their ‘house DJ’ to open the show and what a great opening. His thumping mixes got the crowd warmed up straight away with some very well-chosen tracks, mainly from the same era as the FLC ‘glory days’ – the time when most of the crowd were discovering the band.
DJ Mateo di Fontaine certainly did the business. Expertly mixed tracks like Skee-Lo’s I Wish, Return of the Mac and the always welcome White Lines by Grandmaster Flash with some additional memory jarring bangers by bands like Jungle Brothers (who I used to love but had completely forgotten about) thrown down with overlays from Queen, Bob Marley and David Bowie, had the crowd bouncing.
The bass lines ripped the breath from your lungs, made your brain wobble and your knees shake – and that’s if you were stood still. But why would you be? No-one else was.
Di Fontaine kept this pace for well over an hour with no let-up and, while the crowd were here for the main act, it was a bittersweet disappointment when he’d finished.
The band took over around 9.30 and the Lower East side trio consisting of frontman turned Sony Award winning BBC broadcaster Huey Morgan, his founding partner Brian ‘Fast’ Leiser on bass, trumpet, keys and samples and the group’s longest-standing drummer Frank ‘The Rhythm Master’ Benbini bounded onto the stage. Well, actually, Leiser and Benbini bounded on stage. Morgan was helped onto the stage on crutches having damaged his foot in an unspecified accident that may or may not have involved alcohol. More on that later.
The first track played tells you a lot about where the FLC are with Another Mimosa as it is also the first track on the album. Let me say here that FLC don’t do covers. Well they do…..and then they don’t. It’s a cover but not as we know it. The FLC reinvent the song. It’s like when you see someone you know, but you can’t put your finger on who they are because you are seeing them in a different context. I saw a woman in a supermarket once. I knew I recognised her and I could tell she recognised me but I couldn’t figure out who she was. Neither of us spoke to the other, we just kinda looked away and moved on to spare our (my) embarrassment. It took me two weeks of trying to place her to finally figure out that she was my dentist. Different context made her only slightly recognisable to me. Familiar, but difficult to place.
The point of all that is that is what an FLC cover is like. You know you know the song, but you rack your brain because you can’t place it. They don’t cover it, they reinvent it. Take the original and throw it into a hessian bag with a few spices, a crow’s foot and a splash of brandy and then give it a good shake. What comes out is a remoulded, reinvented version of the original but with a bit more grit, a bit more attitude and a bit more spirit. It’s been round the block a little and it shows its experience. So, not a cover – a reincarnation.
That’s how it was with the first track. Let’s call it a new version, in this case of the 1958 instrumental ‘Rumble’ previously recorded by Link Wray and his Ray Men. Straight away, the three guys show you their prowess on their instruments. It says, “Hey, here we are, look what we can do, what you’re about to experience. Get ready.”
We were ready, but then not ready. The second track was Neil Diamond’s ‘Hello’ which was barely recognisable as the same track and now we had all locked in to how this was going to go down.
The banter between the band and the crowd was great. Huey Morgan, despite spending a lot of time in the UK, hasn’t lost a trace of his New York drawl and interacted with the audience throughout. It was like you’d been invited round to spend some time with three friends who were just jamming together and shooting the shit in one of their (admittedly very large) living rooms. It was hard to tell if the mixture of Codeine and Remy Martin that Morgan was using to help his foot pain added to the quantity and style of the banter, particularly between him and Leiser, but it made for great viewing between songs.
‘Hello’ was followed by King of New York which was then followed by ‘Smoke ‘Em’ which had a great trumpet solo from Leiser and some brilliant guitar work from Morgan.
Leiser then showed his versatility by switching to guitar and the band rocked out with ‘Bombin’ the L’.
The distinctive guitar hook on ‘Crazy Train’ was followed by a jump into hip-hop and Ice Cube’s ‘We Know How We Do It’, with accompaniment from DJ Mateo. A West Coast rap track from an East Coast Latin Jazz Band.
Because…erm…because….well, Fun Lovin’ Criminals. Yes, that.
The Tom Petty track Mary Jane’s Last Dance followed to keep the crowd’s head’s spinning trying to keep up with the styles and performance which was then thrown back to an FLC classic Korean Bodega. Keeping up so far?
The new release, Daylight is the love child of a smoky, hard drinking New York beat with a Las Vegas hooker on a night off. The crowd loved it.
Then it happened.
From the first five drum-beats (I’ll name that tune in one, Tom) the crowd all had their arms in the air (many of them attached to phones videoing the moment so they could show all their friends what they missed just because they were too lazy to go out on a school night). Scooby Snacks is the most iconic track of the FLC back catalogue and it did not disappoint. There wasn’t a single body in the venue not pumping their arms in the air. The bar staff should probably have been a bit more restrained as you shouldn’t waste good alcohol, but what the hell? You just couldn’t help yourself.
The crowd energy stayed high for Barry White Saved My Life as everyone chanted along. Maybe he’d saved everyone’s life. Who knows? It’s a mesmeric track for when you’ve tried to drink the same as Huey Morgan, realised it’s beyond you and you’re now swaying on the dancefloor oblivious to everyone else, head bowed, eyes closed swaying away on your own in a sea of people. Or maybe that didn’t happen. But it should have.
Big Night Out followed and I want to know if FLC have been compared to ZZ Top before. I hope not, but they have now. This reminded me of the early stuff by them (ZZ Top), which was weird, but not something I could throw off.
And that was it. Huey limped off, helped by a roadie down the stairs at the back of the stage and off to soothe his sore foot. I assume the Remy Martin bottle was as an antiseptic.
But wait. As if a crowd this invested in this gig was going to let it all end like that! Literally no-one moved. Apart from cheering and clapping for what seemed like an age, which may be related to Huey’s foot, before the band returned.
Benbini introduced the next track, Find Your Own Self, which got the crowd back into the schmooze groove and ready for the finale.
Which was, of course, The Fun Lovin’ Criminal, another iconic FLC track and a fantastic way to finish a brilliant gig.
The band now continue their UK/European tour in Bristol and have another 11 dates after that. I strongly suggest you get your arse of the sofa and get down to see them. You will NOT be disappointed.
The musicianship is awesome, participation and interaction between the band and the crowd outstanding and the performance just exceptional. What are you waiting for?
31 Jan Birmingham The Mill
1 Feb Newcastle Northumbria Institute
2 Feb Glasgow Barrowland Ballroom
7 Feb Southampton Engine Rooms
8 Feb Bristol 02 Academy
9 Feb Norwich UEA
7 Mar Worthing Pavilion Theatre
8 Mar Nottingham Rock City
9 Mar London O2 Kentish Town Forum
13 Mar Prague Forum Karlin
14 Mar Berlin Heimathafen
15 Mar Copenhagen Vega
16 Mar Hamburg Gruenspan
28 Mar Oxford O2 Academy
29 Mar Manchester Academy
30 Mar Leeds 02 Academy