After a period of inactivity lasting six years, many thought that Mike Skinner was done with The Streets for good. However, in 2017, the Birmingham rapper and producer surprised everyone by rejuvenating the project releasing two new tracks. And now, following on from that, in 2019, he is back on the road and back down under with his first visit to New Zealand in twelve long years kicking off at the Auckland Town Hall in New Zealand on a Monday night.
The Streets have always been popular in Aotearoa with albums such as Original Pirate Material and A Grand Don’t Come For Free capturing the imagination of New Zealand music fans due to the clever, at times witty, but very realistic nature of Skinner’s lyrics which detailed the everyday goings-on of growing up in working-class Birmingham.
So seventeen years on from his debut album and twelve years since crowds here last got to witness him, does the man many rate as being one of the best rappers to come out of the UK still have it as a performer who can command the attention of an audience? And, with that, was the decision to re-launch the Streets, so to speak, worth it?
Hobbling into a packed Auckland Town Hall of mostly 30 and 40-year-olds keen to relive their youth, there was a buzz in the air as an expectant crowd waited for their man, a man who bought stories of simple British urban living portrayed through music into the lives of many New Zealanders.
Skinner, now forty himself, took to the stage backed by his touring band made up of Kevin Mark Trail on vocals, Wayne Bennett on bass, Rob Harvey on guitar, and Cassell the Beatmaker on drums, and right from the opening few tracks it was clear Skinner had not lost any of his ability to command an audience.
In what could only be described as half stand-up half-rapping, Skinner comes across as an embarrassing uncle, but the thing is that he does what he does so bloody well that this doesn’t matter...
Leading the crowd through classics such as Let’s Push Things Forward and Same Old Thing, Skinner was in fine form all evening, cracking jokes (although we could have done without the sheep jokes), spraying the crowd with champagne, and even offering advice on New Zealand’s economy suggesting we export weed instead of beef.
In what could only be described as half stand-up half-rapping, Skinner comes across as an embarrassing uncle, but the thing is that he does what he does so bloody well that this doesn’t matter. His skilful dry wit and ad-lib storytelling ability despite being offstage for a few years had not disappeared and it felt like we were back in 2002, not 2019.
While the big up-tempo anthems like Don’t Mug Yourself and Too Much Brandy were very well received by a loud and enthusiastic crowd, it was the more tender ballads that stood out, proving that Skinner was never just a one-trick pony and allowing his very talented band to shine.
Mark Trail who has been with Skinner right from the get-go was a star on tracks like Never Went To Church and everyone’s favourite breakup therapy song Dry Your Eyes, while Skinner was able to portray his softer side through singing during these more tender moments of the evening.
The show climaxed with an excellent encore featuring the ravey MDMA anthem Weak Become Heroes and a raucous Fit But You Know It which featured Skinner crowd surfing through the Town Hall, and, of course, more champagne spraying.
I went in not knowing what to expect really, given that Skinner is approaching the dreaded legacy act status of his career. He has been away for a few years and his best work was released ten plus years ago. Thankfully though, Skinner and his band put on one hell of a show that was full of energy and a laugh a minute proving that if you stick to what you are good at and what audiences remember you for, then established acts like The Streets can still be relevant.
The only negative of the evening I would say was that support acts should not be DJs. This is becoming far too common at international shows in New Zealand and was the case again here. This just comes across as lazy and prevents a great opportunity for a local act to get a chance to play and support a touring act.
Other than that, a great evening was had and this geezer got plenty of excitement seeing a modern-day British great.