The Streets, Picture House, Edinburgh
A showman signs off in style
Tuesday 22 February 2011
After 10 years, five albums and waves of adoration, The Streets are falling silent. Mike Skinner has decided to call a halt to the project that made his name and reputation in order to concentrate on other interests, including acting and the discovery of new talent through his own label. Few will argue that stepping away now is anything but a good idea.
Skinner's last two albums, including this month's finale Computers & Blues, have been more introspective and less successful affairs than their predecessors, with a decent case emerging that The Streets fulfilled the same role in the 2000s as Oasis in the decade previous. Both were pop artists who sang of excitement, hope and heartbreak in the effortlessly authentic voice of their times, but both have come to prove that captured lightning doesn't come back when the bottle is opened.
This first show of the apparently final tour was a party of course, and a misty-eyed farewell, but there was no denying it also felt like something Skinner simply needed to do: an entertainingly trip through all the highlights of his back catalogue for one last time, without any of the exuberant power of his early shows.
Beyond the context of his wider career, though, the show offered the packed crowd a fun Friday night out. Backed by a full band and playing under five eerily lit, 3D-effect columns displaying the Streets' lighter logo, Skinner appeared at the front of a three-pronged vocal attack with his long-time backing singer Kevin Mark Trail and The Music's Robert Harvey, the latter a recent addition who played guitar between hollering guest appearances on the mic.
While Harvey performed strongly, his presence also flagged up the set's flaws. In using a full band and reducing, for example, "We Can Never Be Friends" to a sad strumalong or "Never Went to Church" to a maudlin, "Hey Jude"-aping Britpop ballad, Skinner plays down his status as a true innovator of British rap. Plan B might be the flavour of the moment but he's no Mike Skinner, and even these voguish live arrangements can't erode the spirit of "Let's Push Things Forward", "Don't Mug Yourself", "Weak Become Heroes" or even the endearingly knuckle-headed "Fit But You Know It".
Typically, there were plenty of laughs, including Skinner's insistence to one tops-off raver that "that's a good torso, you remind me of Mark Wahlberg", a lyric aimed at a cameraphone photographer and perfectly ad-libbed into the lyric of "Blinded by the Lights" that ran "you have no new messages/ so put down the phone", and the dumbly cheerful "Heaven for the Weather".
Also, just occasionally, things became very special: the symphonic garage brilliance of new track "Soldiers"; the perfect payoff at the end of a slightly flat "Dry Your Eyes" where the crowd were left to roar the closing "it's time to walk away now/ it's over" line; and Skinner's game crowdsurf at the end of set-closer "Going Through Hell". "I'm so happy to be here," he signed off emotionally. "It's been 10 years and it's been a lot of beers. Please – let's just get pissed." For The Streets, there could have been few more fitting last words.
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