There’s a lot changed in the world since 2011, the year that Mike Skinner released the final album Computers and Blues from his band The Streets.
Health and Safety legislation for instance, so much so that after an early stage dive Skinner is warned to ‘take his f****** shoes off’, lest he damages one of the exuberant crowd members, before he dons a hi-vis jacket for the next two songs.
Prior to the set exploding with life, the prolonged 45-minute gap between evening opener JayKae served only to build the anticipation in the O2 Academy to an unprecedented level, a tinder box primed with pints of beer and various items of apparel, all waiting to be fired off into the atmosphere the second the original British garage hero enters his domain.
Opener Turn the Page sets the scene with its grand, brooding and building background before The Streets, which tonight include ‘local legend’ Rob Harding formerly of local band The Music together with longstanding vocalist Kevin Mark Trail, crash through familiar song after familiar song, flitting between engaging with the general throng to a direct conversation with the front row, calmly asking to let go of his hand, such is the adulation for Skinner’s return.
The mid-set trio of Could Well Be It, Going Through Hell and The Escapist drag the evening up by the shirt collars, verging on a charge of crowd incitement. Any one of these tracks would stand comfortably beside the much vaunted current UK grime and garage scene. Skinner has always been an innovator, establishing trends since his 2001 debut that remain engrained and shape current day artists whilst producing tracks such as Dry Your Eyes, including a somewhat ironic intro of Bryan Adams’ Everything I Do, which 14 years after their introduction remain embedded deep in the brain.
The subsequent encore contains five more tracks, each building to a crescendo. Open The Till is a huge sound, The Streets joined on stage with the track’s originator Grim Sickers before Boys Will Be Boys has a sound and bass so strong that it wasn’t clear whether Skinner’s T-shirt had been taken or blown off.
Few sets close with the heavy riff and opening verses of Black Sabbath’s War Pigs before morphing, pitch perfectly, into the soulful almost reggae pop sensibilities of Fit But You Know It. Skinner completed this track in a circle amongst the crowd, the ripples extending to the outer reaches of the Academy.
As the sweaty, exhausted, tinnitus affected crowd made their way into the Leeds evening after the stage had eventually emptied, our route took us past a door labelled ‘Hearing and Balance’ at Leeds General Infirmary. Ninety minutes in the company of Mike Skinner had firstly lifted and then broken everyone present, the temptation to seek solace and recuperation on the other side of that door was absolutely immense.