South Facing 2021

22nd August 2021

Note to future festivals: never put Mike Skinner behind a moat.

For some performers during the month-long series of events that make up Crystal Palace Park’s new series South Facing, the moat that runs in front of the temporary stage is an element of added grandeur or stage-framing. For others, such as Fat White Family singer Lias Saoudi, who merrily waded through the algae mere weekends before, it’s a fairly inconsequential barrier to rowdiness. For Mike Skinner, however, the moat is his nemesis. Never before has a man berated a metre-wide body of water so heavily for keeping him trapped on one side.

It is, of course, all part of Skinner’s shtick as a frontman: if other wordsmiths use musical rewinds to hammer home their point, then The Streets’ mainman does the same thing in banter. The result, then, when he eventually hops across a tiny bridge at the side to be embraced in the arms of a lairy - and incredibly high, gauging by the smell - crowd, spraying his third bottle of champagne of the night over his adoring fans, is exultant. It may have taken Skinner a little longer than usual to fully get everyone in the swing of things, but come tonight’s second half, he’s got them in the palm of his hands.

The first half, however, comes with its fair share of dips. Though an opening one-two of ‘Let’s Push Things Forward’ and ‘Don’t Mug Yourself’ blasts out of the traps, the frontman standing atop his (soap)box in the centre of the stage for maximum impact, the band follow it with a run of slower material that - for a Sunday night crowd - doesn’t quite pack the punch needed. It’s a rollercoaster of a main set, not so much a greatest hits as a sort of enjoyable meander punctuated by Skinner’s sparky between song chat (if there’s one thing that never fails to amuse, it’s that).

There are moments, however, that are undeniable. And from the pre-encore blast of ‘(21st June) Who’s Got The Bag’ - replete with its new “then they fucked that tune” lyrical amendment and a wobbling bassline so huge it could vibrate out several boroughs away - The Streets are the post-lockdown festival party band of dreams. ‘Weak Become Heroes’ leads into ‘Blinded By The Lights’ and, 17 years after it was released, ‘Fit But You Know It’ remains untouchable.

Mike Skinner might have taken a little longer than usual to traverse the literal and metaphorical gap tonight, but by the end, he’s with us all the way.

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