The Streets have been an omnipresent fixture on my bucket list to see live in action. On Friday evening at the Castlefield Bowl, I finally managed to tick them off as Mike Skinner rounded off the summer with one of the most unique, eccentric, and electrifying gigs I’ve ever witnessed.
Even though this was my first time experiencing The Streets, I’ve seen Skinner DJ on a handful of occasions and was aware that I was about to witness something special, but nothing prepared me for the frenetic proceedings that lay ahead of me.
I still vividly remember buying The Streets’ final album of their first era on CD, Computers & Blues, in 2011, and their split cut me as a 14-year-old who thought I’d missed the boat ever to witness them live. Then rolled their comeback shows in 2018, which I agonisingly missed out on, then the pandemic struck, but now finally I’ve made amends.
In honesty, it’s a poor reflection on myself that I’ve been able to recite the words for ‘Prangin Out’ since I was in primary school without quite realising the coked-up paranoia meaning behind the song I was innocently singing. Yet, it’s a love affair that’s enhanced with age. As I’ve gotten older, Skinner’s lyrics have clicked on a profound level, but nothing beats the experience of hearing these songs in a crowd of 8,000 who are all lost in the moment in solidarity.
5 things we learned from The Streets at Castlefield Bowl in Manchester
Let’s talk about the venue…
Outdoor venues often fail to replicate the intimacy and atmosphere of their indoor equivalents. Usually, they are a marquee in the middle of nowhere in a field with shite transport links, yet, Castlefield Bowl is buried in a picturesque inner-city location that captures the heart of Manchester as trams zoom overhead throughout the concert. It also helps that it’s a five-minute walk from my apartment, which made it even more of a perfect setting.
The wide pavilion allows you to have an eagle-eyed view of the stage no matter where you are stood, and weather permitting, there’s no better place to watch live music in the city. Thankfully, the rain held off, and a convivial atmosphere filled the air for the final Friday of summer.
Mike Skinner was in a humorous mood throughout the gig as he routinely thanked the audience for ‘Manc-ing about’ while repetitively throwing put-downs in jest at the city. On multiple occasions, he shared his thrill that Manchester wasn’t the capital of England.
Any fan who has ever listened to an ounce of his music will be aware not to take everything he takes seriously. Still, he listed an array of historical facts about Manchester during the show, akin to a Brummie champagne-sipping, Gary-dropping, Tony Robinson. The eccentric artist mentioned the Suffragettes, the invention of vegetarianism, and the splitting of the first atom. Inexplicably, Hitler refusing to bomb the Midland Hotel was even brought up repeatedly by Skinner. Every day is a school day, eh?
Skinner invited the crowd back to ‘Room 305’ at the aforementioned hotel after the show, a room he almost certainly wasn’t staying at considering he uploaded a picture from his bunk on the tour bus on Instagram that very same evening.
The Streets’ debut album, Original Pirate Material, is a zeitgeist-like masterpiece, and large swaths of the record made up Skinner’s set. He opened the set-up by bursting straight into the triad of tracks, ‘Turn The Page’, ‘Let’s Push Things Forward’, and ‘Don’t Mug Yourself’, which made sure proceedings descended into madness from the get-go.
Enough time has passed now that Skinner is happy to wheel back the decades and let that record take precedent in the set. After all, when you’ve made an album as seminal as Original Pirate Material, why wouldn’t you lean heavily into its seismic brilliance?
He’s not (just) a nostalgia act
While most of the set came from the early era of The Streets, he found room for three tracks from 2020’s return effort, None Of Us Are Getting Out Of This Life Alive. Skinner and his band finished their set with a euphoric rendition of ’21st June (Who’s Got The Bag)’, a song that the refreshed crowd to delirious levels.
After returning for the encore, Skinner unleashed classics such as ‘Weak Become Heroes,’ which he intertwined with my childhood anthem, ‘Prangin Out’, ‘Fit But You Know It’, and ‘Fit But You Know It’. Before the Brummie finished up with his bassline anthem, ‘Take Me As I Am’ rather than relying exclusively upon his canon of old-school hits, and it went down wildly.
He’s got a soft side, too
Although Skinner exudes a persona on-stage of being this picture of hedonism as he glugs champagne from the bottle throughout songs, and many efforts from his set revolve around exploits from dubious late-night activities, there’s a poignant side to him too.
The 41-year-old looked visibly moved following ‘Never Went To Church’, which is about the passing of his father, with ‘Could Well Be In’, ‘The Escapist’ and ‘Everything Is Borrowed’ also throwing up similarly profound moments.
The duality of The Streets is what makes them so special. While many have tried to replicate his lyricism style to differing levels of success when it comes to partying, these beautifully emotive songs about the darkness of life are the trick up his sleeve that separates him from his peers.