So this is my first review for Birmingham Live and I’m pretty excited, albeit a bit nervous after reading some of the witty, intelligent and quirky reviews from ‘the regulars’. But nevertheless, I will give it a go…
Let’s roll with the subject of ‘first times’ actually… last week saw the opening extravaganza of the brand new 02 Academy. I’m sure you’ve already read the great reviews for Editors and The Twang, both of which I went to, but now it’s the turn of The Streets.
Having seen them only a few weeks ago at V Festival, I (thought) I knew what to expect; just minus the obligatory festival hat and face paint. But in actual fact, I was pleasantly surprised that they had a little more to offer this time round; in particular their interaction with the crowd and references to Mike’s connection with Birmingham.
I’ve always thought of Mike Skinner as quite detached from the city and a bit more ‘London-centric’. He never seems to publicly state that he’s from Birmingham unlike The Twang, and other bands like Kasabian and The Enemy, who are very vocal (excuse the pun) about their local roots. The gig wasn’t billed as a ‘homecoming’ either, so I’d never really thought of it as that, and even Mike himself said, “Since the first album, I’ve made a lot of enemies here.” But, once he got on stage, there was something very fitting about the whole thing and straight away it felt like we were part of something.
I had expected the crowd to be pretty raucous; an assumption based on their V performance and the previous night’s Twang gig. But, in actual fact, the crowd was a completely mixed bag and, dare I say it, somewhat relaxed. Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of excitement, chanting and jumping on-the-spot but there wasn’t the sense of mayhem that was at The Twang gig. I even managed to push (politely, of course) near to the front, to really soak up the atmosphere.
The set itself was great… Mike and his singing-sidekick Kevin Mark Trail were on top form; vocally and in spirit. They had great on-stage banter and there was plenty of eye contact with the audience. They dug out the classics like “Let’s Push Things Forward” and “Original Pirate Material”, reminding us all of the first time we heard them. Naturally they also did the crowd pleasers like “Fit But You Know It” and “Don’t Mug Yourself”, which both received rip-roaring cheers.
As well as Mike and Kevin’s vocal charm, The Streets’ success is also down to quality melodies and powerful beats, and the band did not disappoint. Their timing was spot on and they read the crowd like a book. There was a synchronicity between the band that I didn’t particularly expect, especially after the departure of their long-serving bass player and guitarist Morgan Nicholls, who left to concentrate on his place within the Muse ensemble. But Wayne Vibes was a more than suitable replacement, keeping those oh-so popular rifts strumming throughout the entire set.
The gigs’ poignant moment came when Mike sang “Dry Your Eyes” and “Never Went to Church”. Both tracks struck an obvious emotional chord with him and created a connection with the audience, with everyone singing as though they themselves had experienced those moments. The Streets are renowned for using lyrics to tell a story, and during both songs the obvious story was that everyone goes through tough times, but we all get through it. The atmosphere was far-removed from singing the chorus of “Fit but You Know It”, but that kind of gave the gig its uniqueness.
But don’t worry, the band didn’t leave us all crying into our pints, the sombre mood only lasted a total of six minutes. After that, it was back to jumping up and down in our Reebok Classics and throwing beer around the room. As a whole, the set was a well-balanced mix of tempo, enough fast to keep the heart pumping and enough slow to save us from heart attacks, oh and there was some extra drum and bass for good measure.
Like any good band they saved the best ‘til last… after leaving the stage and returning following a rowdy plea for an encore, the chords for “Blinded by the Lights” pounded around the Academy. This in itself got the crowd excited, but then came the trademark “Go Low”. The music stopped and Mike signalled for the house lights to go up — not so good for those of us sweating at the front. Then we were ordered to “Go Low”; as far on to the floor as we could… which was a task and a half considering we were packed like sardines. Surprisingly everyone got involved and the result was essentially a room full of intoxicated people crouching down. But, my god, did it look good! It summed up how much the audience were into his set and just ‘got’ him. Then came the drum ‘n’ bass, which immediately got everyone jumping in the air, throwing hands, pints, and even the odd pair of knickers in the air.
And that was it; the set ended after the rowdy dance-along and a mass exodus took place. Luckily for me though, that wasn’t the end of the night, having been given entry into the VIP party in Academy 3. As we stood waiting with (yet another) beer, the band gradually started to enter the room, looking refreshed and full of adrenalin. We got chatting to Kevin saying how great the set was and after about 20 minutes, I suddenly saw Mike Skinner’s head run past me and straight over to the stage area where the DJ was. Kevin soon joined him and the duo did an improve sing-along to the DJ set, which included some 80’s anthems and Garage classics. The ‘select few’ of us watching loved it, and continued dancing around the small room like lunatics. It was the perfect end to a fantastic gig, and even though Mike left after his appearance, the rest of the band stayed to enjoy their VIP fan base.
Overall, it was a great performance and the entire band seemed to take in the atmosphere. Hopefully this means Mike will be a little more forthcoming when talking about his hometown. All in all, and after three fantastic gigs, I’d say Birmingham was pretty spot on for music these days.
And on that note, I’m off to shine my Reebok Classics…