Lady Sovereign, the pint-sized British grime sensation who is gearing up for a debut album on Def Jam, had a tough challenge opening for the Streets on Wednesday night at Avalon. She was faced with the doubly hard task of getting the party crumpin' at, ahem, 8:15 pm. And she also had a bad reputation to erase -- her lackluster Boston debut a couple of months ago at the Middle East fizzled a worldwide internet buzz that had been building for months. But on the longest night of the year -- Litha for all ye Wiccans out there -- the self-described “white midget” succeeded on all fronts.
THE STREETS: Not quite putting the "soul" in "solstice."
Sov’s youthful, playful exuberance was apparent from the moment she bounced on stage in what looked like some sort of Keith Haring ’80s Aztecan pajama outfit, a pony tail sprouting out the left side of her head, charming her way into the audience’s favor with a dry, self-deprecating wit. Performing alongside a DJ and a live bassist (“cunts,” she called them, giggling), she snuck swigs from a Corona and shouted-out her MySpace friends. It was if all 2000 of us were invited down to her parents' basement for a slumber party and she was like, "Hey, guess what? I've been working on some raps. You guys wanna hear 'em?," and we're all like, "Sure!," thinking it's gonna be good in that "Oh that's cute, she's trying to rap" kind of way, but then she starts up and spits hardcore deliveries precise, and it's grimy and catchy as hell, and awesome, and suddenly, we're all like, "Oh shit?! This is actually really good!" Her set was greatest-hits-worthy, spanning underground faves like “Ch-Ching,” “Random,” and “Hoodie,” then offering a promising glimpse of things to come -- including the punk-rockish set-closer “Public Warning” and what was introduced as her next American single, “Love Me or Hate Me.”
The Streets are, and have always been, essentially just one dude: Mike Skinner. But for this tour, he’s gathered up four mates to back him up: a drummer with a wicked kit (who also managed minimal backing tracks via laptop), a keyboardist, a bassist, and a soul-singing sidekick named Leo the Lion, who joined Skinner in riffing on everything from Arctic Monkeys’ “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” to a gender-flipped take on the Pussycat Dolls’ “Freak Like Me” to the New Kids’ “You Got It (The Right Stuff).”
Retooling digitally composed beats and hooks from a hip-hop album is notoriously hit or miss. Take that Jay-Z Unplugged album for instance: it’s awesome the way the Roots cut those songs down to their essence, but would you go to a gigantic sold-out downtown nightclub to rock out to it? Hardly. The tradeoff on live hip-hop is always a gain in kinetic energy and a loss in raw sonic power. And at Avalon, the live band lacked a certain thump -- the umf that Streets fans have come to expect. The Streets’ beats are renowned for their radical recipe: one part garage/2-step, one part hip-hop, a dash of jungle, and tablespoon or two of big orchestra cuts. Try as they may to replicate that distinct sound with instruments, the band came up just a bit short. There was something almost restrained about it. Couple that with Mikey Streets' habitually understated flow, and a poor arrangement of songs on the set list, and you got yourself the makings of a dud. In earnest, the Streets tried their mightiest to put the "soul" in "solstice," but, like my spelling, it just didn't work.