Live review: Plan B, O2 Academy Brixton, London

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

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 [b]Faith SFX[/b] that precedes [a]Plan B[/a]’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 [b]Ben Drew[/b] does take to the stage singing [b]‘Writing’s On The Wall’[/b] 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 [b]‘The Recluse’[/b]) to a souped-up soul version of [b]‘Charmaine’[/b] from his first album to a straight-faced cover of [a]Seal[/a]’s [b]‘Kiss From A Rose’[/b] to a dubstep version – aided once more by [b]Faith SFX[/b] – of [b]Ben E King[/b]’s [b]‘Stand By Me’[/b]. Surprisingly, the latter incites more screams and more jumping about than any other song tonight, [b]‘She Said’[/b] and the climatic [b]‘Stay Too Long’[/b] 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 [b]‘…Strickland Banks’’[/b] 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-[b]‘Back To Black’[/b] 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.

[b]Hamish MacBain[/b]