Live review: Fun Lovin’ Criminals / The Mouse Outfit

On paper, curating a performance from a band with the occasionally salubrious lyrical content of Fun Lovin’ Criminals within a city’s most prominent place of worship sounds like a slightly strange idea. Past Manchester Cathedral sets from the likes of Elbow, I Am Kloot and Anna Calvi have all worked perfectly but before proceedings even begin, there’s a sense that this one could be a bit more of a rollercoaster.

The trio haven’t exactly been the most prolific over the last decade, but they’ve more than established a loyal fanbase that will never allow them to slip from consciousness – and so it’s proved on the night as the 1,100 capacity venue plays host to a sell-out.

In a way, there is a slightly makeshift look to the stage setup, but that’s probably to be expected within such an unorthodox space (or orthodox depending on your spiritual persuasion).

However, the fact of the matter is Fun Lovin’ Criminals have exhumed class and unbridled confidence their whole career and have shown no signs of stopping any time soon. Many may now be just as familiar with Huey Morgan’s rarely-a-duff-moment BBC radio shows as they are with his music in recent years, but now’s his time to prove he can still pull off his own tunes.

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The support for the evening are a local cartel that come as a more than welcome bonus: The Mouse Outfit are a Manchester-based hip-hop collective who clearly do it for the love. Whether Morgan and co are already familiar with them or not I would hope they share my view that there are few more perfect undercards.

This is no pre-recorded track on a loop situation either, the band are a full nine-piece onslaught of energy that live to entertain and (mostly) achieve that goal with integrity. Their debut album Escape Music features the exploits of nine rotating rappers – tonight only two of them, Sparkz and Dr. Syntax, are present.

The former is Manchester through and through and never even comes close to missing a beat. Their sound is one that, similarly to the evening’s headliners, absorbs a host of genres spanning jazz, funk, breaks, and drum ‘n’ bass. It’s a performance that demonstrates a vibrancy and accomplishment that is refreshing, coming from a city that isn’t necessarily known for having the most thriving hip-hop legacy.

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From the outset, there is a feeling that The Mouse Outfit might be slightly better suited to a bulging festival tent at 2am and the mixed demographic of the audience is perhaps not what they are most used to – but this doesn’t dampen the band’s gusto in any sense.

Crowd participation a-plenty and immaculate delivery of lyrics that can be deceptively dark make for a hugely entertaining set. Highlights include Sparkz’s ‘Got Me Thinkin’’ and the Tribe Called Quest-like ‘Shak Out’.

When they launch into kick-back anthem ‘Blaze It Up’, there are only one or two of the cathedral’s inhabitants who oblige, but that’s probably understandable.

The set finishes in a cheesier manner with a funk medley and a repertoire of Carlton Banks-style dance moves from Dr. Syntax – but in all honesty it’s nice to see a rapper who doesn’t take himself too seriously. Have a read Kanye eh?

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After a slightly protracted interval the FLC come out all guns blazing. They burst out of the traps to a soundtrack of ‘Bear Hug’, all three bouncing and rapping in unison, creating a scene that looks more like a Def Jam tour than a rock gig in a cathedral. They quickly grab the instruments that were meticulously tuned minutes earlier and quash any worries they could be out of practice with a flawless rendition of ‘King of New York’.

A psych-tinged performance of ‘Southside’ then demonstrates another string to the trio’s bow and slips effortlessly into the jazz-funk of ‘Back on the Block’. The audience are loving it and Huey’s trademark swagger far eclipses any aspersions that a recent panel show altercation may have cast on his personality.

After the brilliance of ‘Loco’ his temperament is tested though when his guitar cuts out. As roadies furiously scurry around the stage it’s of some comfort that if anyone has got the chat to fill such dead air space, it’s Huey Morgan.

The night gets back on track though and FLC launch into what is generally seen as their biggest hit. Morgan has a slight look of guilt on his face as the colourful lexicon of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction sample signals the beginning of ‘Scooby Snacks’.

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It may not be the frenzied spectacle that defined their iconic 1999 Glastonbury set to a twice over-capacity field of fence-hoppers, but tonight is a performance from a band who cannot be accused of return to form, because they never dropped their standards in the first place.

No one’s leaving without an encore and FLC return to exercise their unique ability to coerce a mass chant of “Barry White saved my life” during ‘Love Unlimited’. They bow out with the eponymous ‘Fun Lovin’ Criminal’ and bring an end to a night that is surely like nothing Manchester Cathedral has seen before.

Patrick Davies

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