Plan B – review

100 Club, London

Plan B's third album, Ill Manors, went straight into the album chart at No 1 this week, despite being a spectacular musical contrast to the slick retro-soul stylings of its smash-hit predecessor, The Defamation of Strickland Banks. "What makes getting to No 1 special this time," Ben Drew tells this intimate, celebratory gig, "is that it's a UK hip-hop record."

The album is largely the soundtrack to Drew's recent movie directorial debut of the same name. Set on the sink estates of east London, it's an unflinching and relentlessly bleak portrayal of a British underclass doomed by years of social and familial rejection to lead hopeless lives of abject amorality and criminality.

The link between the projects is Plan B's ability to depict characters trapped through no fault of their own in lives going nowhere. The Strickland Banks material merely sweetens the pill, as is clear when Drew begins this gig with Motown-hued gems from that album such as Prayin', The Recluse and his biggest hit, She Said, which he scathingly dismisses as "a bit of karaoke".

Bouncing on the balls of his feet, a coiled smart-casual ball of tension, Drew looks as ever like a man on the verge of starting a ruck with his own band. This wired demeanour adds yet more edge to Ill Manors numbers such as Deepest Shame, a hugely moving hip-hop/soul rumination on the plight of a crack-addicted prostitute forced to turn £20 tricks in late-night pubs and fast-food joints.

Plan B's message would be unpalatable were it not for the brusque brilliance of the music in which it is couched. Lost My Way is a thrilling Prodigy-like fusion of reggae, rap and techno, yet is dwarfed by his recent riots-referencing single Ill Manors, which Drew spits out as if consumed by the inarticulate paranoia and violent insecurity that rages at the song's core.

He vacates the stage after Ill Manors as if needing a moment's respite to recover from its draining intensity, yet returns sharply to slalom through the ode to hedonistic and narcotic abandon that is Strickland Banks's Stay Too Long. Pinballing around the stage to recreate the song's skewed urgency, Drew slams into his fellow band members before succeeding in depositing his battered guitarist into the depths of the drum kit. It's a fittingly adrenalin-splashed climax to a gig that has showcased a truly exceptional talent, one who can currently do no wrong.


Ian Gittins

The GuardianTramp

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