King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, Glasgow, October 17
Mike Skinner is the peripheral pop star. He enjoyed huge commercial success with The Streets but always seemed uncomfortable with celebrity, devoting one album (‘The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living’) to its intrinsic hollowness and spending the latter half of their career attempting to make some philosophical sense of his own life instead of chasing hits. There were struggles with addiction, sure, but not to booze or drugs: Skinner’s vice was the more unglamorous pursuit of spread betting. He was always a producer by trade, and a pop star by default.
Now, in his first post-Streets undertaking, Skinner is one half of The DOT, stationed behind his technological bells and whistles, sipping from a bottle of vodka and contributing the occasional vocal while Rob Harvey – the banshee-lunged former frontman of The Music, and a collaborator of Skinner’s ever since the final Streets album ‘Computers And Blues’ – takes centre-stage. It’s been a long time since Skinner inhabited venues this small, and the crowd seem unsure what to expect: they’re eerily subdued on the first few songs, and there’s a dreaded sense that at least half of them have come to hear ‘Dry Your Eyes’. During one track, their deafening lack of enthusiasm is only drowned out by one man’s mutinous clapping; outside of tumbleweed and whalesong laments, it’s perhaps the loneliest sound around.
It’s important to stress, however, that none of this is The DOT’s fault. They’re both slightly more muted performers these days – “In this band I can dress like an estate agent and get away with it,” smiles Skinner in his rumpled-looking suit – but the music, by and large, is pretty good. ‘And A Hero’ and ‘Whatever It Takes’ – a certified early-’90s banger puzzlingly left off their debut – are both terrific meetings of Skinner’s beats and Harvey’s voice, while ‘You Never Asked’, an acerbic relationship-study of the lies we tell and the truths we don’t, has a black humour typical of its author’s best work. Members of the crowd still call for old songs, but with good-natured jests, not short-tempered impatience.
There’s a theory that Skinner is currently drifting; that his heart is more in films than music, and that heading back onto the toilet circuit with a new band amounts to a kind of mid-career crisis. Tonight’s show may be a little rough (straight vodka has that effect) and a few songs may sound sketchier than you’d like, but while he might never eclipse The Streets, at least he’s not content to simply go stale in their shadow.