Fun Lovin' Criminals

The New York three-piece fail to inspire at Andersonstown Leisure Centre

'How do you change a duck into a soul singer? Put it in the microwave until its bill withers...'

So texts my esteemed colleague as I lean against the wall in the Andersonstown Leisure Centre, trying desperately to avoid eye-contact with an astonishingly drunken man stumbling from person to person, drinking from a pitcher of beer.

There’s no way to feel comfortable when you attend a gig alone, and so, in the meantime, I text all and sundry as a means of deflecting attention from my lonely self. 

Later, when the Fun Lovin’ Criminals eventually take to the stage on this, the final night of Féile an Ham SandwichPhobail 2008, I ponder how you might change them into an act as fresh and charismatic in 2008 as they were in the late 1990s. I soon realise that you can’t.

The Féile grand finale gig opens with Meath band Ham Sandwich. Initially they sound amazing, like an Irish Arcade Fire. But, with the first few chords of their second song, the illusion wears off. Ham Sandwich get stale uncomfortably quickly.

Adorable singer Niamh Farrell and madcap singer/guitarist Podge McNamee keep the audience entertained with their mid-song banter, and an incident with a broken guitar string leads to a lovely, cheerful interaction between band and crowd. But the highlight of their set is a Madonna cover. 

No falling-over-with-guitar-in-hand antics can disguise the fact that Ham Sandwich are a pedestrian outfit better suited to much smaller venues. Did I mention that their singer is delightful?

After a 45-minute interlude, and much chanting of ‘Hughie, Hughie!’ from the Féile crowd, at last some sign of movement. 

Festival director Sean Paul O’Hare takes to the stage to congratulate everyone involved in this, the 20th year of the community festival, from Clonard Monastery headliner Brian Kennedy to the festival bar staff. ‘And now, what you’ve all been waiting for, the Fun Lovin’ Criminals!’

Or maybe not. Still no sign. The passing of windblown tumbleweed. And another announcer. ‘Give it up for the Fun Lovin’ Criminals!’ Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together?

The New York three-piece – who came to prominence in 1995 with debut album Come Find Yourself, and career-defining single ‘Scooby Snacks’ – open with a clanger. ‘Up On The Hill’ is as distinctive and ear-catching as a collaboration between the Lighthouse Family and The Beautiful South. 

Hughie MorganIt can’t get any worse, and in fact, from here on in, it only gets better. As the night wears on, frontman Hughie Morgan becomes increasingly frisky, winking and waving like an overweight mobster on Viagra. 

Morgan could do with leaving off the fancy dress and getting back to the street. Decked out in a terribly crumpled white shirt, white trilby and black slacks, he’s a stoner with a mafia problem. Tony Soprano wouldn’t be seen dead. 

Combining hip-hop, rock, Louis Armstrong covers and brass, the Fun Lovin’ Criminals pump out the back catalogue to the evident delight of their adoring public. But there’s nothing to get over excited about, which is disappointing for a headlining act. FLC play at a tempo better suited to smoke-filled bedsits. The cavernous venue does them no favours.

The inevitable ‘Scooby Snacks’ manages to liven up proceedings, generating much hip-hop arm waving and embarrassing street moves from the dancing hordes, many of whom remember a better day when their waistlines were smaller and clothes cooler.

But times have changed. Over a decade since they first flourished in the jet stream of the Beastie Boys, FLC are fast becoming the joke and not the jokers. 

Lee Henry