Live Review: The Streets and Skeleten @ Hordern Pavilion, Sydney

11 March 2024 | 8:02 pm | Shaun Colnan

Skinner’s style – laidback and chaotic, bardic and belligerent – makes him a jocular provocateur.

The Streets

The Streets (Supplied)

It’s incredible to think Mike Skinner has made it to a sixth studio album. After dropping the mic for The Streets back in 2011, few thought he’d return. Yet, here he is, back fronting up as The Streets: the infectious passion project of the producer/poet; an act that blends high tempo dance of multiple styles with witty and heartfelt rap lyricism and an awkward swagger.

First, local act Skeleten played to a meagre and less than eager audience. The moving and emotive tracks which blend groovy rhythms and poppy trance-inducing lyrics seemed to not fully capture the crowd. Playing songs from his 2023 album, Under Utopia, as well as various singles, Russell Fitzgibbon and his four-piece backing band moved through a truncated live take on his electronic marvels.

Red and blue lights flashed to herald The Streets return to a Sydney stage. Cheers rose up and a backing track playing “Money isn’t everything”, as the band moved slowly onstage. Skinner knows how to bring the hype with the brightest lights you’d ever see blazing on the drum kicks as he arrived onstage. Then without further ado, he dove into Turn the Page off his 2002 Original Pirate Material with a hilarious and clever cadence. This, while blue lights pulsate. A brilliant welcome. 

Beyond the tracks, Skinner was keen to bring the banter, developing a theme early: “Sydney never loves its smell… Sydney doesn’t smell like Venice.” He’d riff on these images at key intervals throughout the show, twisting his meanings and creating humour through punning. He entreated individuals in the crowd to “look me in the eyes” and shared intimate moments with many.

This before he dove into the crowd to spark excitement, spurred on further when he said, “You’ve got not excuses – it’s Friday night in Sydney.” This led into his 2021 single, Who’s Got The Bag which saw fans singing out “21st of Joo-oo-oone” as the lights burned and flashed red.  

Skinner flipped a speaker so he could stand up on it and jump from it – an impressive and scary feat for a 45-year-old Englishman not exactly in his physical prime. Yet, he mimicked the same jump throughout the set, managing a few moves as he jigged along to the drop. 

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Let’s Push Things Forward saw the crowd singing out the chorus: “You say that everything sounds the same.” Meanwhile, Skinner riffed with audience members up the front before he declared, “I’m gonna kiss all of you tonight!” This hedonistic sentiment was quickly undercut with a sad anecdote: “I got COVID and it caused me some heart problems and that’s a true story… I didn’t bring any nuts or dirt from Indonesia but I may have brought COVID… So I won’t be kissing anyone…”

Don’t Mug Yourself got the crowd jumping with its detailing of early twenties awkwardness and earnestness couched in the slang of Birmingham and South London. The band – and particularly the backing singer – provided much needed energy for the main man who has previously struggled with chronic fatigue.

Yet, what he lacked in mobility and tight delivery, Skinner more than made up for in his wit and banter, his audience engagement and his tireless sacrifices. In the midst of the hour and a half show, Skinner parted the crowd twice, climbed up to the nosebleed section at the side of the Hordern to sing the heartfelt ballad, On The Edge Of A Cliff which had everyone singing – including many hard-looking men on each other’s shoulders – “For billions of years since the outset of time, Every single one of your ancestors survived… What are the chances of that like?”

That track, taken from The Streets’ 2008 album Everything Is Borrowed, struck a chord, especially given the spotlight followed Skinner as he walked through the crowds and as he stood up on a seat encircled by burly bearded men singing along with intense sincerity. Then he crowd-surfed back to stage, joking, “Jesus, it’s like Cornwall.” He made some truly bizarre (most likely tongue-in-cheek) comments like, “I met Val Kilmer in Sydney,” as well as threatening again and again: “I want to have one more dance with you all.”

I Wish You Loved You As Much As You Loved Him is one of those tracks which holds up to much of Skinner’s earlier tracks. While the bars from Donae’o and Greentea Peng were missing, the hook still hit and we rode the beat. 

Skinner made some hilarious and humble quips at one of his super fans: “He has a tattoo of my face…It’s really stupid, man coz I might get cancelled tonight and you’ve got my face on your leg and you gotta go to the beach.” 

To cap off the smell motif, he tied it all back together, stating, “My life truly began in Sydney…It doesn’t smell bad…it doesn’t smell like Venice but it has a certain smell and smells are more emotional…I was with my girlfriend and I lived here and then I went back to England and I started The Streets.”

Skinner’s style – laidback and chaotic, bardic and belligerent – makes him a jocular provocateur. Yet, with his age and his heart issues, his performance has tempered a little, but the wordplay and, more presciently, the words remain.