The Streets / More Fire Crew - Manchester Academy 1 - 4.12.02

Is Mike Skinner a modern day poet? Is he really the voice of the streets? Is he the best UK Garage can offer us? Can The Streets really cut it live?

They're questions that all need answering, but first of all were here to check out More Fire Crew who are here as unannounced support slot following the Fire Fighters decision to cancel their planned 8 Day strike (Ed: More Fire Crew - geddit). Not so much a crew, but a small gathering with just 3 members and a DJ, the combined forces Neeko, Lethal and Ozzie B had a smash hit with "Oi" earlier in the year, but since then with the exception of the Gabrielle collaboration for the War Child "One Love" compilation it's been all quiet in the More Fire camp. Back with an album in the can they've spread their wings from the original UK Garage template into full on urban flow incorporating elements of hip hop, ragga and R&B which should make for a much more interesting proposition, but only the new single "Back Then" matches the dizzy heights of "Oi".

The Streets on the other hand seemingly have nothing to prove with critics eating out of his hand and the white music fans buying his music in the same way Eminem reached out to new audiences that Dr Dre could only dream of. And here lies my only problem with a the worldwide patronage of Mike Skinner, yet at the end of the day it's the fault of the media rather than the mad himself. Skinner was simply an unknown regular geezer on the streets of Brum getting into the sounds of the the Garage Scene's So Solid Crew and More Fire Crew and with the knowledge of acts like the Specials and Ian Dury he wanted to put his own suburbanized spin on it. Then of course the media get their hands on it, rewrite the story and tell it as if The Streets were the first ever UK Garage act simply because it's easy to get your head around the Streets than the likes of the So Solid Crew if you're a middle class journo living in Notting Hill.

Still, Skinner manages to be a voice for the streets of suburban Britain in a way that a reality TV show could only wish for. Smoke spliff, drink a few cans of Carling, pop a pill, head to the club, dodgy take away, chill out with playstations and late night TV - it's 24 Hour Big Brother on the Streets. Looking around at tonight's audience it's a 50/50 mixture between the Terry's (law abiding lager louts) and Tim's (Student smokers) in "The Irony Of It All" and the only thing we can be sure is that there will be blood by the end of the night. From the moment the Streets hit the stage, Skinner's pelted with full cans of lager and does his best to dodge the onslaught. For someone who never even planned to play live, he sure knows how to work the crowd and after the disappointing Jools Holland performance it's good to see the band are tight as. Backed with just a 3 piece band of keys, drums and bass with his old sparring partner Kevin Mark Trail on vocals adding a truly soulful element to the the likes of "Has It Come To This?" and "Lets Push Things Forward" which morphs into the Specials "Ghost Town".

With the exception of the disappointment of the "The Irony Of It All" being thrown away as a video segment mid-set, you can't fault the show. "Too Much Brandy", "Sharp Darts" and the hilarious "Don't Mug Yourself" are all played with a slightly less lumpen feel than their recorded versions on "Original Pirate Material". The only problem is where does Skinner take it next without resulting to pantomime set pieces to beef up the set - what makes The Streets so special are their lyrical passages and it's unlikely that a set of unfamiliar material would go down well with a beered up and lairy crowd - and could he even repeat the success of "Original Pirate Material" now he's removed from the surroundings that influenced the album in the first place. Whether he goes onto international super stardom or falls flat on his face when his second album fails you can guarantee it will be interesting journey along the way.

Alex McCann

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