The Streets Make U.S. Debut

Mike Skinner's lyrics lost in the mix in San Francisco

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The problem with hype is that as the length of time between initial buzz and actual payoff increases, so does the expectation for excellence. Take Mike Skinner, a.k.a. the Streets, whose face appeared in a bevy of magazine articles on these shores well before his out-this-week debut record, Original Pirate Material (Vice/Atlantic). As the first live performance by the Brixton-bred O.G. ("Original Geezer") progressed Tuesday night at San Francisco's Justice League, Skinner's cheeky rhymes got lost in a muddle of bass bins and concrete floors.

Musically, the buzz around the Streets is deserved. But Skinner's urban poetry -- the crux of his persona and his talent -- went over the heads of most in the audience. If you actually could understand the spoken word that he was spewing through the sound mix, chances are you'd have no idea what he was talking about when he claimed, "Yer mother warned yer to sound system banger," during the live version of the record's brilliant first single, "Has It Come to This."

The unusually packed house moved and swayed to the stoner dance music offered by Skinner and his crew -- including a drummer, bass player, keyboardist and second MC, Kevin Trail, who injected the songs with the needed dose of soul they display on record. Skinner paced back and forth across the small stage, looking the part of a British club kid. Baseball hat pulled down low, striped Fred Perry polo shirt hanging off his frame, the young white MC sucked down cigarettes like they were his lifeblood and regularly poured out half his Budweiser in a funny "This is for my homies" gesture.

The hype and reality came close to intersecting when the show wrapped up with the mellow house beats of "Weak Become Heroes," Skinner's paean to his first experience taking Ecstasy. The song proved that while dance music -- including the Streets' hyper-kinetic, minimalist U.K. garage rap -- is never about the lyrics, Mike Skinner's words are too good to ignore.