The Streets in the Olympia Theatre, Dublin, on 16 April 2018
Around nine o’clock on a rainy Monday night in Dublin city 1,240 people are packed into the Olympia theatre, whooping and hollering. Everyone here is gathered to see the long-awaited return of The Streets and especially that of Mike Skinner. What else would you be doing?
It’s been seven years since Skinner and co. have toured. During that time The Streets have become properly recognised as one of the most iconic and influential groups in urban culture. Their debut and sophomore albums ‘Original Pirate Material’ and ‘A Grand Don’t Come For Free’ are among the most critically and publicly lauded albums of the ’00s. Long before grime became the dominant force it is today, long before rave culture held its vice-like grip on Dublin youth culture, there was The Streets.
The group’s blend of UK garage beats and everyday working-class lyricism are shocking and yet instantly recognisable. Mike Skinner was and is a prophet for the godless youth.
The first shock comes in the stage layout. Many were expecting the classic DJ/MC two man set up, instead a full band of about six line up beside one another. There’s a of couple guitars, a keyboard, bass and an entire acoustic drum-kit. Couple that with Skinner and some supporting hype men and you’ve got a cosy set-up.
Beginning with Turn The Page seems almost like a must, it’s the opener everyone’s been wishing for throughout the day. Those opening strong stabs are met with rapturous reception. Skinner bounces around the stage. He hits every word in every bar, as too do his audience. At one point he stands on the edge of the stage, microphone in hand, looking genuinely awestruck. With two fully sold out nights, the group must have been expecting a friendly reception, but this cacophony is something else altogether.
The opening 20 minutes of the set pay homage to those golden first two albums. Barring some minor sound issues (Skinner’s voice fails to cut through the mix in places) this opening segment of the show lives up the lofty expectations placed upon the gig.
Skinner’s frontmanship is superb. There’s something contagious in his hyped-up braggadocio, as if his and the crowd’s energy are symbiotically linked. “Dublin, Are you here for a quiet Monday night?” is the mantra tossed around during the first half of the show.
Admittedly, the material from the groups’ later albums is slightly underwhelming. Skinner’s struggles with addiction and depression during this period are well known and ultimately resulted in material less focused than the earlier stuff. This is slightly balanced out by the backing band. The material on these later albums is far better suited to live instrument performance, whereas the material on their debut and follow up tends to sound a little rigid, possibly due to it’s overly electronic composition.
The second shock of the evening is the setlist. One must admire Skinner’s refusal to focus solely on the group’s first two albums. Certainly, there would have been considerable pressure to do so. There’s a healthy mixture of material from all the groups projects, bar their newest slew of single releases.
Neglecting your newest material is akin to admitting your lack of faith in it. The Streets finish up their hour long first set with almost nothing fresh. Many who’ve come to bask in the Streets’ glory days won’t care, but for those of us who hold Mike Skinner in high regard as a current artist, it’s a massive disappointment.
The highlight of the set comes during the encore. Blinded By The Lights is everything everyone attending hoped it would be. A shirtless Skinner delivers each verse with an animal intensity, towering over the edge of the stage, eyes all aglow.
The set was the perfect refresher course on just how good the Streets are. Or at least, how good they once were. The jury is still out on exactly where they stand now.