Streets live shows have always seen their fair share of calamity, lairy bravado, dreadful musicianship, some pretty suspect duel rapping, brilliant geezer wit and a couple of inspired moments that serve as a reminder to why Mike Skinner is the British hip hop genius of our time. Tonight is the last show of his last tour. Ever! So why break the habit of a lifetime?
Wearing all black (it is his funeral, after all), it’s not long before a clumsy rendition of ‘Don’t Mug Yourself’ sees Skinner trip over his own words, and not for the last time tonight. It’s a similar fare come the following ‘Let’s Push Things Forward’; long-time cohort Kevin Mark Trail also keen to chat off piste, although never at the same time, nor with the same “Alright Brixton?”, which makes for shouty double-dutch most of the time. Initially they get away with it because, a.) we’re excitedly singing over the cracks, and b.) you shouldn’t speak ill of the dead. This is the last time we’re going to see The Streets – we desperately want it to be good. And the occasion does eventually win out.
‘Weak Become Heroes’ is annoyingly funky rather than euphorically downbeat, there are far too many weepy numbers (not because ‘Everything Is Borrowed’, ‘Never Went To Church’, ‘It’s Too Late’ and ‘The Escapist’ are crap – even though they are – but because by lumping them all in together it’s suddenly apparent how identical they are) and the overall sound quality is so bad that we can often hear nothing but the drums, as impressive as they are. Still, during this send-off for deep-seeded urban decay in British pop music, The Streets have one charmingly funny figure centre stage. “This is Rob, he used to be in a band called The Music,” says Skinner of Robert Harvey. “I fucking love him, but he looks like Voldemort.”
After orchestrating some “calm seas” (that’s hands) to crowd surf over (in a suit, for a new video to ‘Computers & Blues’’ standout track ‘OMG’), Skinner climbs back on stage and says, “I’m really sorry to that guy there. Sorry mate, I just had to kick you in the head. I’ll buy you a pint.” Three songs later he does. Most touching, though, is the rapper’s farewell speech following ‘Dry Your Eyes’. He thanks his mum and his wife, confesses that, “the last few years have been really hard” and reasons, “I always said the party would be for real, and it always has been; I’ve never wanted to fake the party.”
And as for those flashes of inspired ingenuity, one comfortingly comes from ‘Turn The Page’ – the first track on The Streets’ debut album, which finally sees Skinner rap solo to rising strings that we can actually hear – and another is delivered with paranoid pills anthem ‘Blinded By The Lights’. It’s still not loud enough, but it’s a hauntingly dark track that is often overlooked when thinking about The Streets, and it’s ended tonight in both calamity and lairy bravado; the audience succumbing to Skinner’s wishes and sitting on the damp floor before going ape shit on command to an unexpected cover of Katy B’s ‘Katy On A Mission’.
If this were just another Streets gig, it’d be the same as the last, nothing special. But it’s not, which amplifies its spirit over professionalism.
By Stuart Stubbs
Originally published in issue 26 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. March 2011