The Streets Brixton Academy, London UK - May 11, 2006

On record, the Streets is and probably always will be a Mike Skinner’s vanity project. The south London-based MC/producer/fashion plate/icon to the chronic is a regular renaissance man when it comes to British hip-hop. But in a live setting it’s a different story entirely, as was evident from this gig on his home turf. Supporting "his” third disc, The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living, Skinner has turned his shows from MC/DJ sets into full blown events complete with a multi-level stage, huge video backdrops, live musicians and a stage presence that is as inclusive as it is rambunctious. Skinner is clearly the product of big stadium rock shows trapped in the meek and humble guise of a white rapper. Skinner and MC/soultastic vocalist sidekick Leo stormed the stage in matching pinstripe blazers with sleeves rolled up like a modern-day Crockett and Tubbs to the strains of "Prangin’ Out,” the lead-off track from the new disc, and ran straight into a technical glitch. Not to worry, though. With barely a grumble the pair and the three-piece backing band simply started over. From there, there was no looking back. For 90 minutes (something of a miracle by hip-hop standards) they visited the new album and revisited the previous two with equal aplomb. With the live band, everything took on a new life; the way you think you know the songs from the records is rendered moot by the freshness and punch afforded by the live setting. The songs either rock harder, as in the case of "Don’t Mug Yourself,” "Turn the Page” and "Fit But You Know It,” or become way more soulful, like the set-closing "Dry Your Eyes,” which saw traditional lighter waving replaced by the glow of mobile phone cameras. Despite his seemingly shy disposition, Skinner has embraced his inner showman and not content to simply "present” his music but to reinterpret it and make his shows events that both feed off and include audience participation.