Crime’s laughable flip side

On their first visit here three years ago, to perform at the capital’s summer Rockwave Festival, the Fun Lovin’ Criminals toured as one of the contemporary scene’s more appealing fusion acts, with a stylish blend of rock, rap, soul, and lounge for show. Booked again for follow-up performances tonight and tomorrow in Thessaloniki and Athens respectively, the New York City trio will be returning as a band that has been able to continue extracting goods from its recipe, as conveyed by its most recent album of new material, last year’s «Loco.» Spicy, up-tempo Latin grooves, mixed with classic funk and hardcore punk, were added to the mix. A compilation album, «Bag of Hits,» covering the group’s three-album course so far, was released last summer. According to frontman Huey, the band’s more recent Latin-inflected musical direction could partly be attributed to a recent lineup change involving the original drummer Steve. He was replaced by Maxwell «Mackie» Jayson, a former graffiti artist and drummer of Bad Brains, a potent Washington punk-reggae band. «Having him on board opened up a whole new range of possibilities. Me and Mackie are both Latin. We grew up listening to salsa, meringue, and Latin jazz,» Huey notes in a press release for the «Bag of Hits» compilation, while commenting on the band’s style on «Loco.» «We wanted to do something in that [Latin] vein, but we didn’t want to do the Ricky Martin thing,» he adds. Formed in 1993 after Huey met multi-instrumentalist Fast while the two were working as bartenders in New York, the Fun Lovin’ Criminals have enjoyed considerable commercial success around Europe, particularly in the UK, where the band has sold over a million albums to date. But, surprisingly, considering the trio’s chiefly American musical roots, it has failed to connect with its homeland’s masses. Perhaps the band’s penchant for comical accounts of New York’s seedy underbelly – which may read as lighthearted flip sides to the often bitter realism of street-scanning artists like fellow New Yorker Lou Reed – has repelled too many listeners at home. But, then again, the group’s only hit in the USA, «Scooby Snacks,» from 1996’s first full-length album, «Come Find Yourself,» humorously tells of a drug-induced robbery. Considering the phenomenal commercial success of Caucasian hip-hop acts in the USA such as the Beastie Boys, and, more recently, Eminem, the racial factor – or the intrusion by «whites» into what is considered Afro-American musical territory – does not come into play either. Maybe the American critics are to blame. While critical acclaim in Europe has been common, the trio has often been hammered by compatriots. Some have marginalized the Fun Lovin’ Criminals as an inferior, less imaginative version of the Beastie Boys. It’s a clumsy comparison considering the contrasting musical differences, barring the common hip-hop roots. If the Beastie Boys have mostly screeched and belted their way to abrasive creativity and huge commercial success, these Fun Lovin’ Criminals, whose style is often described as the epitome of modern-day «cool,» sound like they’re more interested in a smoother ride. Whatever the case behind his group’s subdued exposure at home, Huey, a Gulf War veteran turned rock star, is not complaining. «Being in a band is a great job,» Huey notes. «We had to overcome heavy odds to get this far. When we started, there weren’t many bands mixing rock and rap… Rap was more innovative back then. As rap became more commercialized, we shied away from it and began looking for our own niche. But in the early days, we were definitely influenced by hip-hop,» he added. The group’s expanding sound, as indicated by the «Loco» album, has been induced by the trio’s extensive touring in recent years, adds Huey. «There was more of an international flavor on the later songs. New York was obviously still an influence. But when you tour and meet people from Japan and Poland, you realize we all have the same things on our mind.» Tonight, Mylos Club, Thessaloniki; tomorrow, Cine Kerameikos, 58 Kerameikou & Marathonos, Athens. Both shows begin at 9.30 p.m. Advance tickets, 25 euros, at Virgin and Stereodisc music outlets in Thessaloniki, and Metropolis stores in Athens.

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