published: 6 /
On the first date of a British tour, Peter Allison watches the Fun Lovin' Criminals play a humorous and energetic set in an atmospheric performance at the Plug in Sheffield
Originally intended as the second gig of Fun Lovin’ Criminals autumn tour, their Sheffield gig actually became the first, after the previous night’s gig was cancelled due to Huey Morgan suffering a family bereavement. As a result of the circumstances surrounding the cancellation, one might have expected a more low-key performance. In all honesty, this gig was, however, one of their best I have ever seen played by the Fun Lovin’ Criminals, if not any band!
The venue for the night was Sheffield’s Plug. Although the night club suffered the usual lack of seats and packed bar, the atmosphere was electric. Everyone was here to see the Criminals and we all knew it.
I was fortunate to find myself at the front of the audience. This meant I enjoyed an unobstructed view of the gig, as well as being able to fully appreciate their need for a more extensive sound check. Whilst reliably informed the sound quality was great in the centre of the audience, the first few rows of the audience found Huey’s vocals sometimes being overwhelmed by the bass. Whilst this was not a problem for the fan who knows their music, the casual fan would have been frustrated.
The Fun Lovin’ Criminals stepped onto the stage to cheers and opened with two tracks from their latest album 'Classic Fantastic', the title track and 'We the Three'. I enjoyed these songs, but was grateful to find the remainder of the set list was a selection of tracks from their extensive back-catalogue.
Despite the laid-back style that proliferates their music, the Fun Lovin’ Criminals retain an undeniable energy, which you cannot help but be carried along by. The band also played alternative versions of their music, remixed with a stronger beat that is more suited to a live audience.
Highlights of the night included 'Fun Lovin’ Criminal', 'Scooby Snacks', 'King of New York' and 'Korean Bodega'. One of the surprise highpoints of the night was 'Friday Night'. I had previously not been a fan of this slow track, but when played live it is an altogether different experience.
As I commented earlier, the gig experienced the occasional technical issue. Following their second track, Huey quipped, “I don’t know this song” when he realised they had the support band’s set-list. Drummer Frank Benbeni suggested that Huey “just make up the words”. This moment exemplifies the appeal of the Fun Lovin’ Criminals, for even when things go wrong, the band keeps the audience entertained. Other such moments included Frank disappearing between songs to change shirts, Huey mocking a roadie for looking like a younger version of Gandalf (who was attempting to rectify said the sound issue), and bassist and keyboardist Fast imitating Stephen Hawkings after Huey explained the futility in having a discussion with Hawkings.
Part of the night’s enjoyment came from the band’s obvious pleasure in the audience singing along to their music. When the crowd sang along to the iconic 'Scooby Snacks' and later covered for Huey in 'King of New York' when his microphone failed, their glee was sincere. Unlike some bands that monotonously play their music, the Fun Lovin’ Criminals obviously have a kick from playing live, which adds to the experience.
With a career lasting over fifteen years, some bands might be accused of becoming stagnant and formulaic. The Fun Lovin’ Criminals, however, remain as fresh and vibrant now as they did when I first saw them play live.
As always a Fun Lovin’ Criminals gig is always more than just about the music and is also about the interaction, humour, energy, and atmosphere. These elements are what make them such an enjoyable experience and in Sheffield they were flawless.