Live Review- Fun Lovin' Criminals @ The O2, Oxford

by Chris Smart & Louis Blatherwick

Image credit: Chris Smart

Image credit: Chris Smart

A night fuelled with furious alcohol consumption, ferocious guitar solos and a song from just about every genre you could name, the ‘Fun Lovin Criminals’ certainly haven’t changed a great deal in the twenty years since their formation. With an entrance dramatic enough to prelude Bowie’s return, Huey, Fast and Frank electrified the Oxford O2 Academy the moment they flooded the stage, awakening the somewhat dozy crowd of old rockers, punks, Hip-Hoppers, and just about every other type of music fan. In true FLC style, the night was a far cry from polished stage performance. Littered with anecdotes, ribbing and crowd bating, the show seemed as much of a laugh for those on stage as it was to those watching. Huey immediately blessed the arena with his quips and jokes which flowed almost as heavily as the champagne and tequila. Immediately launching into ‘The Fun Lovin’ Criminal’, the crowd creaked into action, spurred by the lyrics “Stick em’ up Punk it’s the Fun Lovin’ Criminals!”

Charged by the bands increasingly animated renditions of the album, as well as lavish alcohol consumption, the crowd progressively became more and more lively. Effortlessly catchy and cool, the Criminals flowed seamlessly from track to track, re-igniting the idiosyncratic essence of each one in a fashion absent from the recorded version. Both Huey and Fast switched seamlessly between instruments, Huey shuffling between priceless guitars as competently as a croupier, whilst Fast alternated between the trumpet, synth, and keyboard as if they were extensions of his own body. This eclecticism of instruments allowed in many ways contrived the incredibly diverse distinct sound that was that of the Criminals, demonstrating their blend of distinctive sound they’ve continuously been recognised for. From Jazz to Punk to Rock and Hip-Hop, it’s was as if the Criminals were a time capsule to the sounds of New York City in the 1990s, soaking up everything they heard and repackaging it into a sound that resonated with so many, and evidently continues to do so today.

Sliding into ‘Bombin’ The L’, Huey unleashed a guitar solo likely to impress the mighty B.B King himself, a self-confessed idol of Hueys, ripping through the eardrums of the slightly stagnating crowd. Not only did the sounds excite and ignite passion, but so too did the lyrics. The relevance of songs such as ‘I Can’t Get With That’ and ‘Crime and Punishment’, commenting on the racism and crime Huey and Fast were surrounded by in New York would be fitting in any contemporary observation of modern day society. The timelessness of both the sound and lyrics of the Criminals reaffirms their continued place in not only the self-donned genre ‘New York City Alternative’, but so too in Rap, Hip-Hop, Rock and just about any other genre to bless the New York music scene. As expected, the hit single ‘Scooby Snacks’ brought a roar from the crowd, enough to awaken everyone from the dazed old rockers to the chattering friends, thrusting the crowd into a bouncing rhythm unmatched again throughout the night. A song packed with extracts from ‘Pulp Fiction’ and ‘Reservoir Dogs’, again the criminals demonstrated their role as timeless vectors in the radiation of late 90’s New York cultural influences.

After the break, despite overhearing the phrase “it’s actually quite entertaining” in the smoking area, the crowd return with a renewed sense of energy. Visibly more inebriated, the band return, empty a bottle of champagne over the crowd and dive into the Latin-inspired ‘Coney Island Girl’. By this point, the band were well into their stride, and the tracks were fast paced, fluid and numerous. The finale of the evening “Big Night Out” summed up the gig succinctly, ending a night as simple and unpretentious as the group themselves, fulfilling a no-nonsense approach which is so evidently the groups core philosophy. Fittingly, the band ignored the overused, inevitable encore ritual, a refreshing change from the coy “we want more” style. As Huey himself pointed out “you can buy our shit but we’ve got nothing to sell”; the night was a simple celebration of a twenty-year old artistic wonder piece, and felt just like it.