So this is it then. After five albums and 10 years, Mike Skinner is calling time on The Streets and moving on to pastures new. What that will be is anybody’s guess, but for now the self-proclaimed “Pablo Picasso of geezer garage” says he’s wrung his creative flannel dry and had enough.
Coinciding with the final Streets album – and return to top form – Computers and Blues, this was both a goodbye to fans and a victory lap for this most unlikeliest of stars. He’s a rapper who can’t quite rap and a singer who can’t sing but has been hugely influential over the past decade preparing the way for a new generation of British MCs such as Dizzee Rascal and Plan B. Think of him more then as a kind of performance poet without the pretentiousness and better clothes – he’d probably be happy with that.
Bringing The Streets’ story full circle, old sparring partner Mark Lewis Trail who appeared on Skinner’s debut album Original Pirate Material is back in the touring band alongside Rob Harvey, the latter best known as frontman of Verve soundalikes The Music. Harvey is a key contributor to Computers and Blues and impressed here as a fully-fledged rhythm and lead guitarist as well as a third co-vocalist.
Two new songs opened proceedings, Outside Inside and Trust Me, but it was the classic pogo anthem Don’t Mug Yourself which whipped the mosh pit up into the first frenzy of the night. Old favourite – and personal Skinner mantra – Let’s Push Things Forward came newly polished up with a dirty drum and bass coda before we dropped down a few gears for the quizzical Puzzled By People.
You’d think that Skinner would have had enough of crowd surfing by now but you’d be wrong. Two years ago, over-eager fans nearly ruptured an old hernia scar when they got a little too hands-on with the star after he decided to get up close and personal with his admirers. But nipping off stage to change into a shirt, tie and jacket, he once again dived headlong into the first few rows before being carried aloft around the Academy. This time he made it back unscathed as Trail cooed a version of Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine to mark time.
Skinner was then back in charge for a perky Weak Become Heroes. One wag in the crowd gave his own ironic comment on the song by heartily waving his crutches in the air. Yes, music can heal the infirm, folks.
The well-judged setlist made the best of two new songs, We Can Never Be Friends and Soldiers, before Skinner staged his trademark “go low” routine by asking the crowd to sit down for Blinded By The Lights before jumping to their feet in unison when the chorus kicked in. No matter how many times you see 2,000 people playing along, it never fails to raise a smile and inject yet more momentum into the show.
Lighters were waved aloft for Skinner’s emotive tribute to his late father, Never Went To Church, before a cracking encore sealed the deal. The punky Fit But You Know It has always been a guaranteed crowd-pleaser and the freshly-minted Going Through Hell stood shoulder to shoulder with anything from his back catalogue.
After a heartfelt speech thanking his fans for a decade of support, Skinner was gone. Or to swipe a few choice words from Dry Your Eyes, “it’s time to walk away now, it’s ohhhh-verrr…”