Tonight, in Miami Vice sky-blue blazer and lime T-shirt, the shaven-headed Skinner projected a persona loitering between laddish rave hustler and the Geico gecko. Crucially, he opted for a solid live band highlighted by a prog-articulate drummer, plus MC Leo Ihenacho, who mercifully sexed up Skinner’s almost spoken-word delivery and self-deprecating everyman charm with his octave-hopping croon and abs-baring solo segues. (The one song without him, “Turn the Page,” suffered from his absence.) Skinner largely shed his albums’ lonely undertones; even the most poignant selections, such as the closing “Dry Your Eyes,” birthed hands-in-the-air celebrations. Dotting around his catalog, Skinner got the Fonda literally jumpin’ with treatments more rock than his recordings yet steeped in London’s garage and jungle juices; comical snippets of Arctic Monkeys and Pussycat Dolls, along with Skinner’s banter with Ihenacho and the front rows, made for timeless pantomime. Here’s an unpretentious entertainer who knows how to make a crowd connection.
The Streets put Lady Sovereign’s worthy efforts in perspective: His stylistic melange, micro/macro politics and disarmingly comedic presentation leave him firmly at U.K. hip-hop’s helm. Ironically, much of both acts’ charm is the proud Britishness of their wordplay and imagery — the very thing that will always put a ceiling on their success over here.