2nd March 2011
Musical re-inventions don’t come much more drastic than that of rapper turned crooner Ben Drew (aka Plan B aka Strickland Banks) who tonight plays host to an evening of retro-soul at Manchester’s Apollo.
Liam Bailey prepares the crowd perfectly for the main event with his deep husky tones, performing a short set of bluesy tunes including the raw and beautiful ‘It’s Not the Same’, and soon to be hit single ‘You Better Leave Me’, demonstrating exactly why he’s tipped to be the next big thing in contemporary soul. After an impressive beat boxing introduction by his friend Faith, Drew struts onto the stage dressed in his usual suave style, complete with a full band in sharp suits and two curvaceous backing singers. As he swings into ‘Writing’s on the Wall’ in his angelic falsetto, it’s hard to believe that the man before us is the same extraordinarily foul-mouthed rapper who opened his previous album by addressing us as “cunts” before singing about “smashing a bottle over some boy’s head.”
Such an extreme alteration of image may seem an impossible feat, but when Drew sings as Strickland Banks tonight, the old Plan B all but evaporates. He controls the stage completely with his quiet charisma and deft moves, resulting in more than one pair of knickers making their way onto the stage. The focus of the show is on Defamation, and only occasionally do we see a glimpse of old material, with the relatively mild 2006 track ‘Charmaine’.
But his encore proves that Drew is still one of the most talented MCs around. A medley of soul classics are broken down in an eerie, reverberating dubstep style, during which there is an abrupt explosion into the razor-sharp lines of Eminem in ‘Forgot About Dre’; Drew’s effortless switch between roles a testament to his talent.
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