Sunday 10 February 2013

Plan B @ London O2 Arena

Ben Drew, aka Plan B, is a man of dualities - and not least because he has two names.  Musically, he has straddled both hip hop and soul, most prominently with his critically acclaimed albums 'The Defamation of Strickland Banks' (2010) and 'iLL Manors' (2012).  And with iLL Manors came Drew the film director, followed by his leading role in the 2012 remake of The Sweeney.

With this, his first stadium tour, Drew has drawn together the two sides of his personality.  It's a gig that, suitably enough, comes in two halves, each taking the form of a short film introduced with a BBFC certificate and the Twentieth Century Fox introduction ("Plan B Presents").  And, of course, his collaboration with Chase & Status, End Credits, was played as the encore.  At the half way point was an incredible beatboxer who somewhat stole the show.  Behind the band were projections of his music videos: the 'Strickland Banks' section loosely telling a story; the 'iLL Manors'  section following the narrative of the film.  For the latter especially, the music is so tightly connected to the film that the visuals were a welcome addition.  The concept as a whole was well implemented, but more integration between the two halves would have provided a more complete, rather than fragmented, performance.

As a performer, Drew morphed from one half to the next.  'Strickland Banks' eased the audience into the music, but suited and booted, Drew appeared a little static.  With the change to 'iLL Manors', Drew entered in hoodie and leather jacket and was immediately more comfortable.  His soul album may have expanded his audience, but it's clear that hip-hop is his passion.

This was at its most recognisable with the title track to 'iLL Manors', played twice.  A protest song against Cameron's "broken Britain", it's rare for popular music to be enriched with such social commentary and to be performed with such angst and bite.  Loosened up and rage-filled, Drew was accompanied by an on-stage riot in the most dynamic song of the gig.  With the crowd roaring back in spiteful agreement, this song alone proved, amongst all the cinematography, the lyrical power of Drew's music.