A sweaty, nostalgic affair and proof that the modern icon knows how to have fun.
What makes a musician a legend? Is it age? Is it album sales? Is it selling out three nights at Manchester’s O2 Apollo? For Mike Skinner and The Streets
, it’s probably a straightforward case of whether you can provoke a good time or not. Seventeen years ago, the release of his debut album put Skinner’s voice on everyone’s iPod, be it for a newspaper critic or a party playlist. His music is adored by rap-fans, indie-kids and ravers alike; it can be a gateway to UK garage and grime, yet is known to move grown men to tears.
Mike Skinner may not have come to the Apollo with a point to prove, but tonight’s ninety-minute performance should put to bed any doubt that he is anything short of a modern icon. The show’s first half is an onslaught of Original Pirate Material
, going from the epic ‘Turn the Page’ into audacious anthem ‘Let’s Push Things Forward’, where the words “this ain’t a track, it’s a movement” have never rung truer.
Soon enough, the backing band get into ‘Same Old Thing’ and Skinner starts to settle into his emcee job. He warns the room he’s going to “press a button”, but they are not to react until he does so as “it’ll ruin the Instagram and that’s what it’s all about”. The curious sarcasm is explained minutes later as the snare-smacks of ‘Don’t Mug Yourself’ accompany Skinner’s aggressive air-button jabs, causing mayhem.
For Skinner, tonight is all about the audience. His hairline might be, but the 40-year-old’s fan-base is far from receding. Crowd members range from ages 15 to 50 and Skinner gives them his full attention. For a number of songs, he even abandons the verses and focuses instead on banter. Has he forgotten his words? It is that he doesn’t care anymore? Does it even matter?
It’s a performance driven by the strength of song above all else. Mike Skinner and The Streets know just as well as the audience that these are straightforward hits and bangers; as long as ‘Has It Come to This?’ and ‘Too Much Brandy’ are playing through the speakers, all Skinner has to do is get the crowd to bounce along.
He assumes the role of dad-lad, supporting from the side-line; one minute he’s telling everyone how pissed he is and gulping pints handed to him, the next he’s making sure no one’s hurt their arm in the mosh-pit because we’re all here to have a good time, yes?
Although Original Pirate Material dominates, The Streets source tenderness from their other albums, making time for ‘Everything Is Borrowed’, ‘Could Well Be In’ and break-up classic ‘Dry Your Eyes’. It is these songs that reveal the range and precision of his words, as he nails lines about philosophy as well as lines about pulling. Any reservations people had in the past about Skinner’s rapping ability are made irrelevant. He’s the city poet, the UK’s Gil Scott-Heron, the sort of wordsmith that comes around once a generation.
But almost two decades of grappling with such grand ideas don’t come for free. It’s been well documented what sort of substance abuse Skinner put himself through and the toll it took on him. He makes time tonight to give a short speech about the importance of mental health, adding some survivor’s wisdom to the world of Stella cans and cigs he usually paints.
Responsible Skinner doesn’t stick around for long though. The show’s encore takes the rowdiness even further, starting with the trappy ‘Your Wave God’s Wave God’ before Bristol rapper Grim Sickers
is brought on for a hard rendition of ‘Open the Till.’
The highlight of the night then comes when that same piano loops over and over with ‘Weak Become Heroes’; a chorus of ‘Prangin’ is slotted into it about halfway through before the band go straight into ‘Blinded by the Lights’. Spots of lucid blue fall on the crowd, coinciding with this string of songs about drug-induced times, sounding so awesomely euphoric that they’ll be the perfect ten minutes for all the pill-droppers that are peaking.
They end with ‘Fit But You Know It’, extracting any energy left in the place. It’s a sweaty, nostalgic affair, a closing statement showing that The Streets didn’t get to where they are just for being the voices in our heads, but for being the bangers we move to as well. The modern hero that is Mike Skinner leaves the stage; we are reminded that he isn’t just worthy of legend-status, but that he still knows how to have fun.
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