Mike Skinner has been basking in critical acclaim since his debut album, Original Pirate Material, ram-raided a tepid UK musical landscape in 2002.
Mike Skinner has been basking in critical acclaim since his debut album, Original Pirate Material, ram-raided a tepid UK musical landscape in 2002. He arrived at a time when everyone was looking to American hip-hop for youthful reality checks, and even Skinner admits that at first he attempted (badly) to mimic his Brooklyn heroes.
But after a year-long hiatus in Australia, Skinner returned to his Birmingham homestead and rediscovered the streetwise London attitude first imbued by his parents. The debut was dreamt up in his bedroom, and spoke of geezers scrounging Rizla papers, and getting tanked up. It talked about the realities of many of his "Barratt Home" generation, where nothing much happened but peer-group pressure and chatting up "fit girls" was paramount. Tracks such as "Turn the Page" and "Geezers Need Excitement" became anthems for post-clubbers and Fred Perry-attired fashion victims.
In Colston Hall tonight, after coming so close to picking up a Mercury Music Award and being recognised by the Brits, Skinner has a vastly superior second album to promote, and first signings (the hip-hop duo The Mitchell Brothers) to his new record label, The Beats, as support. He's a headline act now, and doesn't he just know it? He's even running an MC battle competition for the best local rapper to be offered the possibility of becoming a regular fixture on the tour.
The large auditorium of Colston Hall seems a strange place to launch his UK tour, as Skinner's music has always lent itself to more intimate surroundings. However, he boasts a full band line-up of drummer, bassist, keyboards and accompanying vocalist, Leo, whose sweet soul vocals act as the perfect foil for Skinner's largely monotone delivery. The capacity crowd is waiting for the hits "Dry Your Eyes" and "Fit But You Know It", but are well versed in many of the songs Skinner has penned, and sing along like supporters on a football terrace. He takes to the stage in full hip-hop pose, ducking and diving, brandy ever present to calm his nerves and fuel his witticisms. The music is a rich amalgam of garage, hip-hop, soul and drum'n'bass, but his cheeky-chappie persona is the main attraction.
He looks assured as he launches into "It Was Supposed to Be So Easy". Background visuals show films of children riding around estates and Skinner handing out vodka chasers to skimpily clad women. "Let's Push Things Forward" gets a screaming ovation, and the poignant, drug-related "Blinded By the Light" almost brings out a sea of lighters. Goldie Lookin' Chain even make a carefully choreographed appearance on screen to incite the audience to pogo.
There's little doubt that Skinner is the poet laureate of his generation, and, to judge by this well-oiled and incendiary live performance, he's worthy of the hype that surrounds him.
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