The Streets, London Astoria

Live from London, it's the word on The Streets
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The Independent Culture

"What the fuck were they doing organising a Streets gig on a Monday''? demands Mike Skinner, aka The Streets, as he steps on stage at the Astoria.

Back in October 2001, Skinner cracked the charts and revolutionised UK garage and hip-hop with his home-made debut, "Has It Come To This''. Rather than fantasising about a gangster lifestyle in a fake American accent, the Brummie lad chose to rap about the loves and lives of average British kids, or in Streets' slang, "everyday geezers''.

It didn't matter that the underground garage scene rejected him for pandering to the middle classes with his Little Britainesque tales, because eminent musicians such as David Bowie hailed him as a genius, and Coldplay's Chris Martin invited him into the studio (sadly the results weren't previewed last night). Inevitably his debut album, Original Pirate Material, was nominated for Brit awards and went double platinum.

Tonight sees Mike return to the fray in his "council gear'' - baggy black tracksuit bottoms, white Lacoste polo top and box-fresh Nike trainers. The question is, can he cut it now the cash and getting a girl dilemmas that fuelled his debut album have eased off? And while he's been wooing America, has his home crowd been won over by the more authentically "street" Dizzee Rascal, who scooped a Mercury and took garage to new heights?

He was less active last night than he was at Homelands last year, but happily chatted away over a bottle of brandy, some fags and several cans of beer. His original singer, Kevin Trail, left after signing a solo deal with EMI, and last night Mike looked sloppy beside his slick and soulful new sidekick, Lee-O Ihenacho.

Of the five new tracks, the punchy "Fit But She Knows It'' (his new single) is an instant success. Welcoming a guitarist on stage, Mike jokes that he's taking a rock direction. The crowd sing along as if it were "Don't Mug Yourself''.

"Blinded By The Light'' and "Could Well Be In (ITV)'' are hindered by muddy sound and have difficulty holding their own against spiced-up versions of "Let's Push Things Forward'' and "Has It Come To This''. The encore is more promising, with the ballad "Dry Your Eyes''.

The word on the street is that he can pull a crowd, but he's still worried about the ladies.

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