Mike Skinner has promised that the next album, the fifth, will be the last we hear from the Streets. The project has at times, not least on his second-to-last album The Hardest Way To Make A Living, been a very visible albatross around his neck, but it seems as though he’s turned a corner with the follow-up, Everything Is Borrowed, released in October to predictable acclaim. He sounds happier, more serene, reserving his fighting words for the likes of global warming and religion rather than crack-smoking pop stars. Whether that makes for a better show is hard to tell, but you’d have to go all the way back to 2002’s Original Pirate Material to hear him this vibrant and inspired.
Skinner and his five-piece band took to the Olympia stage at the oppressively early time of 9 o’clock, following local boys Messiah J and the Expert. The start time seemed to catch out a large proportion of the audience, and it was twenty minutes or so before the venue filled up anywhere close to capacity. I’ve long been a little sceptical about the Olympia’s capability as a music venue, ever since watching a lairy Shane MacGowan struggle through a set with the Popes a few years back, and not much seems to have changed. Two big fuck-off pillars dominate the eyeline of anybody unlucky enough to stand near the back of the hall. On Sunday night, there was no escaping the bone-crunching bass mix that shook the theatre floor, making it more or less impossible to make out more than half Skinner or cohort Kevin Mark Trail were saying. Yet people rarely go to concerts for a high-fidelity experience, and in all the areas that matter- performance, banter and sheer quality of music- the Streets remain nothing short of immense.
As a double-act, Skinner and Trail are magnificent. At first it’s strange to hear the more talented singer Trail take the lead on choruses (Skinner’s off-key vocals will always be oddly endearing), but it frees up the star attraction to spit eloquent rhymes and generally patrol the stage like the little bulldog he is. Skinner used the space between songs to relentlessly flirt with the rich girls on the balcony; later, he pulled a doe-eyed fan on stage for his ‘Go Low’ routine, where he invites the entire audience to crouch down on the floor before, er, getting up again. It’s more fun than it sounds. New tracks -Everything Is Borrowed’ and -Heaven For The Weather’ were warmly-received, but the biggest pops of the evening were reserved for old favourites: Original Pirate Material’s -Don’t Mug Yourself’ and the more aggressive, much-improved -Fit But You Know It.’ Mike Skinner plans to retire the Streets name, but make no mistake: Mike Skinner could have called himself anything and still had the few-hundred-odd at the Olympia eating from his palm.