Lack of finesse made up for in rabble rousing...
So let’s get this out of the way before we start. [a]Streets[/a]’ live show isn’t – to be brutally honest with you – especially good. Oh, it’s genius alright. Mike Skinner – in the prophet of the people, king of telling-it-like-it-is stakes – has hit his stride good and proper. Manchester wrote the book on this kind of urban realism and has long since exiled its finest exponents – Morrissey and Ryder. It certainly isn’t going to take any old joker into its bosom. But
in ‘A Grand Don’t Come For Free’ he’s proved himself less twattable than the former, and eminently more hygenic than the latter. The place is a riot before he’s even onstage – and
a crowd this rough won’t do that for just anyone.
Still, album of the year though it probably is, ‘A Grand…”s scatterbeat subtleties and poetic intricacies were never going to come over live especially well. We’re talking about a concept album, of all things, and short of playing all the songs consecutively he was never going to recreate it very effectively. Instead, it’s up with the bass bins and out with the gob. You certainly can’t understand any of the words. Yet in losing the finesse, he certainly captures the essence. The tricky thing about Skinner, which is the trouble with anybody who aims to talk intellectually about geezerness, is that by intellectualising it you end up looking like an utter knob. No surprise that
‘Fit But You Know It’ gets called the new ‘Parklife’. We’ve
never really been sure whether inside Skinner’s ‘all my friends are brickies’ exterior there’s an album of Malian folk demos
and a feud with Huey Fun Lovin’ Criminal fighting to get out.
If this is the new serious Streets, then you can tell as much from the show itself. There’s none of the set-pieces or funny films like ‘The Irony Of It All’ this time round; just the tunes, some decks, a guitar. Yet it works better than you could imagine – largely down to Calvin Schmalvin’s incredible
stage presence. He turns what could just be beats and
bleating into a show with genuine soul, especially when,
on tunes like ‘Dry Your Eyes’, he plays it totally straight.
Or on yer stone cold classics like ‘Has It Come To This?’,
where he elevates himself into the pantheon of great
hip-hop sidekicks. And it isn’t even hip-hop.
Maybe he’s planned it this way – it seems a bit much
to imagine this kind of genius couldn’t do any better –
but in losing most of the charm of the new LP, Skinner
comes off more convincing than ever. This is a terrace-
chanting, pill-popping, lager-guzzling PROPER ONE of an evening; more [a]Oasis[/a] than [a]Aphex Twin[/a] and thank bugger
for that. It may not be great art. But it’s great fun.
Still, he’s a charismatic bastard. When somebody throws a cig packet onstage he retorts in disgust, “”Regal??!”” Although somebody probably should have pointed out to Mike before the show that trying to whip up a thousand-odd lairy pissed Mancs into a City Vs United catcall isn’t really a very good idea. In fact, the fact that the show doesn’t descend into a full-on riot just about proves it. Only a prophet of the people could get away with that. Dan Martin