Without Sydney, The Streets might never have gone on to be one of the shining lights of the UK alternative hip-hop/garage scene. For it was here in the late ’90s, as a 20-year-old backpacker on a working holiday (which included a stint pulling beers at the Star City casino), that Mike Skinner “worked out life” and began to write the verses and beats that formed the nucleus of his breakthrough 2002 debut, Original Pirate Material.
That album told a very British tale of everyday urban life in England – or to paraphrase its lead single Has It Come to This? - of a “day in the life of a geezer … Sex, drugs ‘n’ on the dole”.
Mike Skinner, pictured here around the time of the Street's debut album Original Pirate Material.Credit:
Skinner went on to record five more LPs, before winding the project up in 2011 because he felt he had nothing left to say.
Now he’s back in town for a sell-out sideshow before heading to Byron Bay for the Splendour in the Grass festival, and the air in the Enmore Theatre is charged with anticipation and thick with all manner of excited English accents.
Skinner is a born storyteller, and while the yarns he spins have a very British vernacular of geezers, twats, pints, and piss takes, they speak to the universal experience of being young, dumb, drunk, lost and in love.
His raps – or to be more accurate, stream-of-consciousness spoken-word musings – blur into his between-song banter, while a backing band of drums, bass, guitar, keyboards and the soulful vocals of Kevin Mark Trail bring an energy level that is all too often missing at hip-hop gigs.
However, the “live” treatment is less successful during Weak Become Heroes, a feelgood homage to the rave culture of the mid-’90s that in this version lacks the metronomic beats and house piano loops at the heart of the song.
That age has mellowed Skinner is evident in his concern for the wellbeing of some under-the-weather punters in the front rows.
But while his heart might be in the right place when he tries to organise a safe, grope-free crowd surfing session for female audience members, it does come off as slightly patronising, given his biggest hit (and tonight’s set closer), Fit But You Know It, is about a failed pick-up attempt in a late-night burger shop.
Then again, it’s ordinary tales like this that lie at the heart of Skinner’s success – stories that chronicle the mundane routines of life, and the small victory of making it through another week to arrive at the sanctuary of a Friday night, ready to forget worries, get drunk with your mates and blow off some steam.