Plan B: Live Review, Birmingham Academy, Saturday 10 April 2010
Woah, thanks to our chums at Atlantic Records I’m hanging at Birmingham Academy to catch Plan B on his current sold out UK tour. Now that’s the stuff! Just before he hits the stage, a random guy called SFX comes on looking mega sharp in a suit and shirt. Even though his ensemble sets the tone for the Strickland Banks saga, the mental noises that come out of his mouth definitely don’t. He bumps, kicks, shatters and trumpets his way through a mindblowing beatbox drill that’s so awesome I don’t want it to end! He holds the Mic against his throat, working his own heartbeat into the mix. This guy is destined to be a superstar.
Even though SFX kicks the crowd into touch, his primal noises seem a weird way to begin Plan B’s epic, almost orchestral, soul-driven new material. The crowd goes wild when Ben Drew appears though, and yes, he’s suited and shirted too. Kicking off with The Writing’s On The Wall, things don’t seem good. Drew’s falsetto wavers and he’s surprisingly betrayed by a lack of confidence. Following up with The Recluse, he gains ground with the louder sound and spinning arpeggios and his vocals step into gear.
She Said, with its shamelessly fruity soul-pop melodies, is eagerly welcomed by the crowd. I’m chuffed when he deviates from the Strickland drill with the B-Side Money. Lyrically it’s ludicrously misogynistic but musically it’s raw and fluid and shows Drew as a soul man, belting out his harmonies without backing singers.
Things go back to Banks and some punters clearly dislike his new material with errant calls of “Play some old stuff” and stupid heckles of “Play some hip hop” which Drew ignores. Later, he says “I’ve not made a soul record to get a good chart position, it’s because it’s what I wanted to do”, but he shouldn’t have to justify himself when he sounds this amazing. He covers labelmate Paolo Nutini’s Comin’ Up Easy, which is the most outstanding cover I’ve heard all year thanks to it’s funked up beats, whirling organs and cracking vocals both from Drew and his backing singers. It’s pure class and the fact that he can chuck in raps and carry the whole thing off is a testament to his skill and talent.
I don’t think he’ll return to the stage for an encore thanks to the idiocy of some crowd members but he does, flanked by SFX and they do a storming half hour encore that’s rounded off with a double dose (yes, two performances) of Stay Too Long at the finish. SFX adds extra beats to Charmaine and Mama (Loves A Crackhead), they take in samples from classic soul numbers like Ain’t No Sunshine and with the full live band, this makes for brilliant interpretations of his old material. Everyone in the place is hot, sweaty and live. It’s still the same Plan B folks, he’s just doing what he’s always wanted to. Don’t hate him for it.