wed 23/04/2014

Plan B, Brighton Centre, Brighton | New music reviews, news & interviews

Plan B, Brighton Centre, Brighton

The underground hip-hop MC turned soul star musters a pepped-up performance

Ben Drew, soul poet of geezerdom carries it off in the live arena

After his spectacular performance at the Brit Awards, the stage running amok with a dancing jury, shimmying riot police and balletic convicts, I wasn't sure what to expect from a Plan B show. Perhaps a theatrical experience somewhere between Rick Wakeman's infamous 1975 King Arthur on Ice extravaganza and the Ray Winstone borstal flick Scum? But, no, the newly minted Brit-hop soul star adheres to a traditional band format, albeit sharp-suited and backed by two feisty gospel-belter ladies.

The capacity crowd, however, don't join in with the Reservoir Dogs fashion schtick. Plan B is 27-year-old Londoner Ben Drew and it's odd to think that a year ago he was busy defending his decision to veer away from his raw underground hip-hop roots into soul music. In many ways it did appear a strange decision for a man who once spat caustic raps, such as "Mama (Loves a Crackhead)", to return with a concept album that had more in common with Otis Redding than Giggs. Then again, he's not your average pop star. Not to put too fine a point on it, physically Drew is a stocky bruiser and so are his audience. Tonight, then, is not about media-darling Brighton, gay Brighton, student Brighton, Bohemian Brighton or any similar Brightons. Tonight is about geezer Brighton, Wetherspoon's-friendly shirts and v-necks, number-one crops and jeans, dressed-to-impress girlfriends in tow. Rather brilliantly, the age range runs from grannies to teenagers.

Plan-B-001The album they've all come to hear is Drew's second, The Defamation of Strickland Banks, the success of which was key to him winning the 2011 Brit Award for Best British Male Solo Artist. The album's subject matter concerns a soul singer sent to prison for a crime - rape, although it's not explicitly stated - that he didn't commit. It's not a long album so, before Drew's show starts, the beatboxer Faith SFX acts as hype man. He whips the crowd up with 20 minutes of mechanised dubstep synth noises, rave beats and a drum-and-bass version of the theme to The Godfather.

Drew kicks off with "Stay Too Long", one of the sturdy retro soul stompers at the heart of his album. Behind him a screen plays scenes, possibly from a Strickland Banks movie that he's occasionally hinted at. Whatever, the footage is fascinating, with Drew a mesmeric, edgy screen presence as he has demonstrated in films such as the Michael Caine vehicle Harry Brown. The stage is given a pink bordello glow during the ballad "My Love Goes Down" and the rich, raw, funky rhythm'n'blues of "Prayin'" - perhaps the album's best song - jacks things up a level. The bouncily effective band burn through the album with panache, Drew's clear soul tone impressive throughout. They even drop into one of his old hip-hop tracks, "Charmaine", along the way.

After a sassy take on "Recluse" he tells the crowd, "We're coming to the end of the night, people." A huge "Booooooo!" resounds. "I know, it's a cunt but watcha gonna do?" he asks, not mincing his words, and concludes with Strickland Banks's most successful single, "She Said". It causes the crowd to whoop with glee. Even the two cartoonishly hard-looking blokes next to me who have spent the entire concert farting odiferously, laughing about it and telling each other stories in which people get hurt, finally get their boogie shuffle on.

Now that he's done the album, it's intriguing to find out what the encore will be. It starts with the most predictable bar band soul medley imaginable - Smokey Robinson's "Tracks of My Tears", Ben E King's "Stand By Me", The Temptations' "My Girl" and so on. It's an Eighties Levi's advert in concert form, impeccably produced but very tired. However, at the end he dismisses it affably saying, "That was for the mums and dads, this is for the young people - if you can't hack it, you should leave." On comes Faith SFX and the pair dive into the brutal street violence of "No More Eatin'". The Motown flavour has vanished, now walls of heavy guitar vie with dubstep effects as if in competition to see who's noisiest.

By the time the band reach the Chase & Status tune "Pieces" (on which Plan B guested), they're into metal jamming to a Cossack dance beat. After many exhortations to "mosh, mosh, mosh", they finish where they started, with the darkly hedonic "Stay Too Long", only now it's gone punk. Drew pogoes into his band, eventually leaping bodily on to his guitarist as the final distorted riffs ring out. It's exhilarating stuff and Plan B's people, all 5000 of them, loudly let him know it as he leaves the stage.

The Motown flavour has vanished, now walls of heavy guitar vie with dubstep effects

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