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Live @ The Olympia, Dublin
Celina Murphy, 18 Mar 2011
He’s best known for doing a musical 180°, but since brooding Benjamin Drew last crooned for Irish fans at Punchestown back in July, the genre-hopping noisemaker has taken yet another career flip. If soul is the new rap, it seems that reggae is the new soul. There’s a few flickers of Plan B’s proposed third dynasty in tonight’s show – we’re greeted by beatboxer extraordinaire Faith SFX, whose dubstep-infused wah-wahs will probably sit nicely on album number three, should it turn out to be the reggae/drum ‘n’ bass concoction B has hinted at in recent interviews.
Soon enough, though, it’s back to the blue-eyed soul and the scintillating soap opera that flows through B’s second album, The Defamation Of Strickland Banks. One of the most ambitious musical projects of the last year, judging by the the savage screeching in the Olympia tonight it has paid off marvelously. I can’t recall the last time I was part of an audience that could sing along to every single word on an album. From stunning Motown-esque lament ‘Writings On The Wall’ to the theatrical ‘She Said’, every tune’s a surefire crowd-pleaser.
A shaven-headed, stern-faced Drew cuts a particularly menacing figure tonight that’s in direct contrast to his dainty vocal – it’s easier to picture a smooth Smokey Robinson lookalike calling out from behind the mic than a stocky east Londoner. “Life is not always sweet,” B spits during one of his inter-song monologues and while his sour demeanour and tortured lyrics suggest exactly that, it’s hard to believe anything can go wrong while listening to sounds this rosy. Our band leader’s sporadic rhymes are consistently sharp, especially on the electrifying ‘What You Gonna Do’. All in all, it’s a wonderfully satisfying marriage of old and new, of blissful fantasy and hard-hitting reality. Even a soul-tinged version of 2006’s ‘Charmaine’, a song about shagging a 14-year-old, makes sense.
Interestingly, the chronology of the Strickland Banks story, which seems so crucial on record, has been done away with. Plan B kicks things off as his alter ego is enjoying a peak at stardom, then suddenly he’s in jail, and before you can say “Tony Blackburn”, he’s back on Top Of The Pops again. This, I could forgive (we all know the saga by now, don’t we?), but a 15-minute soul dubstep medley is another matter entirely.