Live review: Plan B, O2 Academy Brixton, London

Ben Drew’s last UK show before he takes on the arenas next year is filled with drum machines, bad dancers and a case of mistaken identity

Dan Dennison/NME
Photo: Dan Dennison/NME
Friday, October 8

"That’s him!” “No it isn’t.” “That IS HIM!” “I’m telling you, it ISN’T!” “IT IS!”. This is the conversation many members of this crowd are having through the 15-minute set by beatboxer Faith SFX that precedes Plan B’s arrival. OK, so like tonight’s headline act he’s shaven-headed, stocky and suited’n’booted, but that’s no excuse. This ‘extra’ night at the not-small-at-all Academy sold out instantly; two months after that happened, tickets were confidently put on sale for another even bigger arena tour, culminating at The 02. And still people – people down the front at that – aren’t 100 per cent sure the guy they’re looking at is the guy they’ve paid £20 to see?

To be fair, the screams that start up when Ben Drew does take to the stage singing ‘Writing’s On The Wall’ don’t subside until three songs in. To be even fairer, he himself still appears to be working out who he is. Always has. So as well as a beatboxing intro and a seamless rendition of the year’s most surprisingly massive-selling album, tonight we get everything from interpretive (and crap) backing dancers (during ‘The Recluse’) to a souped-up soul version of ‘Charmaine’ from his first album to a straight-faced cover of Seal’s ‘Kiss From A Rose’ to a dubstep version – aided once more by Faith SFX – of Ben E King’s ‘Stand By Me’. Surprisingly, the latter incites more screams and more jumping about than any other song tonight, ‘She Said’ and the climatic ‘Stay Too Long’ included.

In fact, The good news for Plan B is that this crowd – also varied, from Ben Drew circa-2006 lookalikes to indie kids to Essex girls to rudeboys to whoever – eat up everything he does with a spoon, and give the distinct impression they’re maybe more ready for ‘…Strickland Banks’’ hip-hop sequel than his record company think. To him, the million-selling ‘soul boy’ routine may be just a phase, and the fact that its Motown stylings have snared a large slice of the post-‘Back To Black’ record-buying public a happy accident, but on tonight’s evidence, they’ll be making their way down to The O2 whatever he’s doing. And even be able to tell him apart from his support act.

Hamish MacBain

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