The Streets at Alexandra Palace
It’s been more than 20 years since Mike Skinner burst into the consciousness of early 21st-century Britain as The Streets with Original Pirate Material.
In many ways, it and its follow-up A Grand Don’t Come For Free were defining albums of their era – as evocative of mid-Blair Britain as the smell of Blue WKD, David Beckham’s ever-changing haircuts, Big Brother, or dodgy dossiers.
It’s fascinating to watch Skinner, no longer the scrawny geezer of his early 20s, return to his (Reebok) classics, particularly as he knows how to get the crowd going early with Let’s Push Things Forward and Don’t Mug Yourself, which accompany his end of lockdown anthem, Who’s Got the Bag?, in the opening salvo.
Don’t Mug Yourself in particular raises the roof, just as it sent a young Skinner into the pop stratosphere in late 2002. The mellow Could Be Well In is followed by The Streets’s infectious breakthrough track Has It Come To This?.
The latter sounded almost alien when it first appeared – paradoxically because of its Britishness at a time when “urban” music was dominated by glitzy American acts. Suddenly someone was rapping about Bensons and Vauxhall Novas instead of Courvoisier and bling. These days, of course, the Ally Pally crowd know every word.
The old hits are interspersed with newer tracks like Wrong Answers Only, and Too Much Yayo, as well as Skinner’s favourites from later albums, made before he originally called time on The Streets in 2011, like the gospel-inflected Never Went to Church. They don’t pop as much as the hits that made The Streets but still showcase his wit and ear for a quirky baseline or melody.
They provide interludes, but Skinner – who also consummately works the room by playing up to his geezerish persona – knows what we’re here to see.
Fit But You Know It spectacularly shows what made The Streets such a compelling act. It’s the sense of fun tinged with sadness, the joyous opportunity of the night ahead, married with the knowledge it will likely end in a happy disappointment with extra chilli sauce.
A more melancholic coda follows with the epic Dry Your Eyes Mate, and of course, Blinded By the Lights. Before Take Me As I Am. Then it’s off out of Alexandra Palace and into the ether – with the lights of Stockwell and Brixton, where it all began, just perhaps visible on the horizon.
Photos: Virginie Viche
For further information and future events visit The Streets’s website here.
Watch the video for the single Dry Your Eyes here: