The Streets Make U.S. Debut - Rolling Stone
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The Streets Make U.S. Debut

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

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.

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