Without wanting to bang the drum for the public service broadcastertoo much, the Beeb’s commitment to cultural programming, even as theworld’s financial markets implode around our ears, remains rock solid.
Now in its third year, the BBC’s annual contemporary musicshindig the Electric Proms has spread its tentacles further than ever – with shows atCamden’s Roundhouse supplemented by a diverse array of actselsewhere in NW1 and, for the first time, in Liverpool.
While tonight’s line-up is about as edgy as a five pence piece,it’s still good to see the broadcaster allowing rap and garage todominate a night that sees ‘bedwetters’ Keane downsized to asmaller venue across the Lock.
Critical darling Santogold istonight’s support, and while the success of her eponymous debut albumhas allowed her to become much more than ‘Mark Ronson’sprotg’, her obvious talents don’t come across to a sparse crowdwaiting for the headline act.
Dressed in a shimmering powder-blue jumpsuit and flanked, as ever,by two implacable dancers wearing dark glasses, Santi White is avisually arresting performer, but one it is actually difficult to warmto – especially as she is, essentially, singing over a backing tracknotionally pumped out by a bored-looking DJ lurking downstage. So,while LES Artistes and opener You’ll Find a Way are as thrilling tolisten to as they are on record, you could really have stayed in thebar with your ipod clamped to your ears and not missed much.
When she does go off-piste, the results are at least diverting, ifnot always successful. An odd reworking of the fantasticStokes-like Lights Out as a call and response gospel song isdisappointing for the indie kids in the crowd, but at least shows someof the kind of pioneering spirit sadly lacking from her morerecognisable tracks. There’s a pretty nice version of TheClash’s Guns Of Brixton as a Damien Marley-esque Kingstonskank, but it adds little to the song. Much more impressive is a soloversion of her collaboration with Diplo, Icarus, a scratchy,haunting song that sounds more like tomorrow night’s headlinerNitin Sawhney than anything else.
If Santogold’s set seemed a little lacking in effort, TheStreets’ headlining is the complete opposite. Clocking in at agood two hours, and with a full orchestra, gospel choir dressed in”chav wedding” chic and a band drilled to military precision, theBirmingham MC gives the impression of having thrown everything at thisconcert to make sure it works – and by God, everything does. Tonight,for Mike Skinner, is a “big dog night”.
Skinner has known the limitations of his stagecraft for sometime -cultivating an unsurpassed line in audience banter while playing thetype of low-key gigs that Santogold has just turned in. Now, with theadded bonus of a huge BBC-sponsored backing section, the results areelectrifying. From the off, as the triumphant strains of new albumopener Everything Is Borrowed echo around the venue, Skinner is amatey, genial and forceful presence who holds the audience in the palmof his hand.
In a set that spans all four of his records, but with only a couplefrom his drugs breakdown record The Hardest Way To Earn An EasyLiving, there’s little filler – almost every song either was or shouldhave been a single. Skinner’s song choices are as hyperactive as thesinger himself, leaping from emotional confessional to “beer lairiness”and back again throughout the set.
Don’t Mug Yourself and Has It ComeTo This are frenetic workouts in noughties malaise, with Skinner andbacking vocalist Kevin Mark Trail bouncing about the stage totales of suburban stupidity, while the ska of Let’s Push Things Forwardis a continual reminder of what an original voice the rapper reallyis.
While Skinner’s boyish enthusiasm lends his lariest numbers acertain amount of silly charm, it’s the slowies that really blow theroof off the place tonight. In pre-gig interviews, Skinner hadexplained his decision to play the event as being down to his latefather’s love of the broadcaster.
Fittingly then, his tribute to hisfather, the Let It Be-like Never Went To Church, is a gorgeous,pared-down thing of beauty, and is the only moment in the evening thathe seems genuinely lost for words.
Dry Your Eyes, staple soundtrack of a hundred ‘emotional’television programmes, is as affecting as ever – the soft consolationof the lyrics abetted by the orchestra’s overpowering violins, while aspeeded-up version of early love song Too Late is fantasticallyaffecting, despite sounding a little too close to comedian BillBailey‘s fantastic reworking of the BBC News theme tune as a drum ‘n’bass record.
Eventually Skinner leaves the stage, stripped to the waist andcarried aloft by an enthusiastic crowd. As he reminds us throughout, this has been a once-in-a-career moment for him and forthe audience. It seems old Auntie still has some tricks in her yet.