Live Music + Gig Reviews

The Streets @ Reading Festival, Reading

25 August 2002

The Streets

The Streets

Mike Skinner has been described as a “street poet”, producing “cutting-edge music”. Original Pirate Material, the debut album by The Streets, has taken the UK by surprise, winding up with a Mercury Music Prize nomination into the bargain.

But what would the boy they call Mikey be like live? Would the whole act be exposed as nothing more than a novelty charade? No-one seemed to know what to expect from The Streets as they prepared to take to the stage of Reading’s dance tent.

The Streets came out with all guns blazing. A backing band of a bassist, two keyboard/programmer bods and a black vocalist gave an atmospheric background to white boy Skinner’s rapping on Turn The Page, which began from backstage and proceeded onto a decks table in front of the stage, and back again. Photographers jostled to follow Skinner’s movements around all of the space available to him.

As the audience yelled “Mikey, Mikey!” the band never let up for a moment. Skinner worked a crowd that either got the joke and loved him anyway, or realised he was far removed from a joke and wanted to show appreciation. Whichever, this was the only gig at Reading this year that didn’t look like a meeting of the Whites Only League. Small black boys grooved as large white women swayed, converging for a performance of music unifying in its mix’n’match hotch-potch of samples, “original pirate material” and Skinner’s incessant “telling it like it is”.

The Streets’ music is drum’n’bass-ska-UK garage-rap… oh, fuck it, genre doesn’t matter. But his lyrics, at once socio-political and saying what no-one else is, do. Even better, whatever the music is, it gets crowds’ eyes rolling and their jaws agape, their arms in the air (like they just don’t care), as they got going to powerful renditions of Give Me My Lighter Back, Let’s Push Things Forward and (especially) Weak Become Heroes, a track which always sounds better in a club – or, as it proved, live – than on the record.

If anyone thought Skinner was a novelty act who would quickly fade, he showed tonight that he is one of the most innovative creators working in music today – whatever the genre. And who the hell cares about that anyway. As the man says, “love us or hate us / but don’t slate us”. He’s not everyone’s cup of the proverbial, but Mike Skinner’s talent is not to be ignored.

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More on The Streets
The Streets – None Of Us Are Getting Out Of This Life Alive
The Streets – Computers And Blues
The Streets + Santigold @ Roundhouse, London
The Streets – Everything Is Borrowed
The Streets – The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living