Tonight on Dame Street, State is in the presence of greatness. Standing only a few feet away from us is a performer who manages to convey an ocean of charisma in one, fleeting moment. His name is Stephen Patrick Morrissey and as he hurries past us outside the Olympia, we are genuinely stopped in our tracks. Inside, Ben Drew proves to be not quite the same force of nature. His transformation from cult foul mouthed rapper to mega selling soul storyteller is one of the great music industry tales of recent years but just how to present The Defamation Of Strickland Banks on stage seems a tough one.
Having indulged his dramatic fantasies at the Brits a couple of weeks ago, tonight sees Plan B once more having to let the music do the talking. Fortunately, the music is brilliant. Not so fortunately, large parts of the performance are not. The problem lies – not with the songs or the excellent band – but with Drew himself. He seems strangely disconnected, especially in comparison with the mean, lean version that is projected behind him as each track is matched to a series of short films. Instead he plods around the stage, acting out the odd lyric, as the band perform note perfect renditions of the songs. The whole thing veers dangerously close to becoming a very soulless soul pastiche, as if he had retreated into the character of Banks himself.
It takes a look backwards to move things forwards. Playing three songs of his Who Needs Actions When You’ve Got Words debut may have tested this very much come lately audience but it does let the real Plan B emerge. From then on in, the show manages to revitalise itself. ‘The Recluse’ is far from note perfect and all better for it. It’s a rousing conclusion to the main set, especially the epic version of ‘What You Gonna Do’.
Things get odd again for the encore. An extended set of covers seems to plunge us back into Tom Jones territory before beatboxer Faith SFX joins for a dubstep version of ‘Stand By Me’ and ‘Kiss From A Rose’. Yes, by Seal. Just when you’re left utterly confused we get a downright menacing version of ‘No More Eating’ and an attempt to get a mosh pit going (which fails). It’s all pretty strange but somehow works a lot better than the anodyne approach of earlier. Then he plays ‘Stay Too Long’ and everything, we mean everything, falls into place. With Faith proving the performance foil he was missing, the band go as apeshit as the audience, with the rap section sending the energy through the roof. It finishes with a band member being hurled headfirst into the drum kit while B himself rings feedback out of a guitar. Morrissey who?
Photos: Abe Tarrush
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