The Streets, Academy, Bristol; My Ruin, Garage, London

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The Independent Culture

'I saw this thing on ITV the other week/ Said that if she played with her hair she's probably keen/ She's playing with her hair well regularly/ So I reckon I could well be in." The Streets, "Could Well Be In". I've been thinking about eugenics a lot lately. Put that phone receiver down, don't call the Anti-Nazi League yet, bear with me here. You see, I saw this thing on ITV the other week too. It doesn't matter what it was - just a piece of primetime "plebdazzle television" - but it convinced me that there are almost two distinct species within the human race: people who watch this crap, and people who don't.

'I saw this thing on ITV the other week/ Said that if she played with her hair she's probably keen/ She's playing with her hair well regularly/ So I reckon I could well be in." The Streets, "Could Well Be In". I've been thinking about eugenics a lot lately. Put that phone receiver down, don't call the Anti-Nazi League yet, bear with me here. You see, I saw this thing on ITV the other week too. It doesn't matter what it was - just a piece of primetime "plebdazzle television" - but it convinced me that there are almost two distinct species within the human race: people who watch this crap, and people who don't.

It's perturbing that important decisions, such as raising a child or choosing a government, are delegated to Huxleyesque epsilons who feel a connection with Love On A Saturday Night with Davina McCall, or New Homes From Hell. At my most exasperated, I wonder whether passing a basic intelligence test might not be a bad idea, as a prerequisite for being permitted to breed or vote.

The existence of Mike Skinner is an important reminder of why everything I've written above is wrong. He's a scrawny bull terrier puppy of a man, nobody's idea of a poet. In fact, he looks like one of the little gits who stole my bike last summer (I'm with Alan Partridge on this: "scum, sub-human scum").

But, like the wild poppies I saw growing on a filthy landfill at King's Cross this afternoon, The Streets' music is a thing of unexpected beauty springing from the dirt. And Skinner's clearly connected with a constituency who haven't been directly addressed for years. The Academy is rammed with Bristolians on tippy-toes from front to back, craning their necks from every staircase, chanting "Skinner! Skinner!".

He's a much-improved performer nowadays, confident to the point of cockiness, addressing "all the fit ladies in the house" (even though, in his songs, he's generally a loser in love), passing purple AAA passes to Bristol's foxiest females, and handing out plastic beakers of brandy to the front row (in an inspired touch, there are upside-down booze bottles with optics affixed to the cymbal stands). "I've never been this pissed onstage before in my life," he admits, and jokes "We need a barman on the next tour..." His trick is so simple and obvious that you wonder why nobody (well, nobody since the heyday of Madness, Ian Dury and Squeeze) has thought about it before: describing ordinary British life in a witty, poignant way which rings true, singing about fancying girls who work in JD Sports and wanting to "get fucked up with the boys!!!" (the loudest audience-participation chant of the night).

In 1988, Simon Reynolds asked Morrissey - on the face of it, not a very Skinner-like figure, but in a sense, oddly similar - "What happens when you've exhausted the diaries?" The answer, in Skinner's case, has been to switch to fiction. Whereas The Streets' debut, Original Pirate Material, seemed more-or-less drawn from first-hand experience, A Grand Don't Come For Free, written after Skinner's ascent to wealth and stardom, is more-or-less an imaginary narrative with a cast of invented characters.

Not that the impact is in any way diminished. Tonight, when Skinner and his band (an excellent co-singer, and the modern jazz trio he's assembled to replicate the laptop sound of the records) play their two break-up songs, "It's Too Late" and "Dry Your Eyes" - songs which, for reasons too dull and private to repeat, I can't bear to listen to at the moment - grown men bite their fists, choke back the lumps in their throats, shed solitary manly tears, and catch each other's eyes with glances of mutual recognition. While we know that the hackneyed nautical metaphor about "plenty more fish in the sea" may be trite, we also know we've all been in the same boat.

They can uplift, too. The show ends with the piano house anthem "Weak Become Heroes", a song which can even turn someone like me, who hates ecstasy with almost drugs czar-like zeal, into the most glassy-eyed Ibiza disciple. If The Streets can win over an alienated elitist misanthrope such as myself, heroic doesn't begin to describe it.

Elsewhere in this supplement I've mocked Avril Lavigne for petulant, dummy-spit lines like "Don't try to tell me what to do/ Don't try to tell me what to say." Watching American metallers My Ruin go through their paces at the Garage, I catch myself wondering, as Tairrie B bellows an almost identical line in her scour-throated stage whisper, what the difference is.

Miss B is the former teenage bitch-rapper (she made a never-released album with Salt-N-Pepa) who reinvented herself as a tattooed rock goddess, and assembled a band whose oeuvre is split 50/50 between generic nu-metal (which endears them to the Hot Topic-clad baby-goth crowd), and fantastically dirgey Sabbath stoner rock (which endears them to me).

She's very Route One in her attitudes, opposed to any "fakeness" and in favour of everything "real" (you won't get a lot of post-modern playfulness with bands like My Ruin), but she has a certain something which elevates her above the Avvy Lavvies of this world. I'm tempted to call it "balls", but that might give the wrong impression. Let's call it charisma. Something you can't buy at Hot Topic or JD Sports.

s.price@independent.co.uk

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