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Live review: Plan B, O2 Shepherd’s Bush Academy, London


Following an unhappy set warming up for Eminem’s headline slot at Slane Castle, Plan B returns to London in a promotional show to mark the arrival of 4G on O2. The corporate nature of the show is somewhat at odds with the mob-driven grit of "Ill Manors", with which Plan B - real name Ben Drew - made his name as the unlikely conscience of British pop.

As ticket-holders grab their free cocktails and chips, cameras swing overhead as the show is streamed live to big screens across the capital. While the perks of this high-budget affair include a grand stage of towering TV screens and full band, Plan B is caught splitting his attention between plays to the camera and the crowd. And he is unable to swear.

While Drew’s second album, 2010’s "The Defamation of Strickland Banks",  re-routed his sound from gritty rap to to dancefloor-friendly pop-soul, most of the songs from "Ill Manors" tonight return to the earthy street wordplay and hip-hop of his debut. It arrives with flashing effects, a jumping hype-crew and movie clips as producer Labrinth is splashed across the tower block screens singing the hooks of Drew’s last single, "Playing With Fire".

Songs like "Drug Dealer" - a ballad about a crack baby turned uncompromising dealer, featuring the reggae intercessions of Zimbabwean vocalist, Takura Tendayi - make it hard for this show to remain light. "Ill Manors" uses rough cut, sample-heavy songs backed by scenes from the film: images of cocaine being cut, prostitution, youths on council estates and beatings. These scenes act more like a documentary than a glorification of Plan B’s perception of modern Britain but his commentary is lost amid a crowd grabbing free drinks and taking pictures.

Drew’s high-speed delivery and lyrical spits propel the show into impassioned bravado. “Where’s the moshpit?” Drew yells at the crowd during "Pieces", his collaboration with Chase and Status in which testosterone-driven drum’n’bass grates against his speeding snarls and guitar riffs.

Drew’s vocals can go from piercing whines to, as on 2006’s "Charmaine", incomprehensible raps. An encore of pop hits "Stay Too Long" and the title track from "Ill Manors" show that Plan B can gel his pop persona with social commentator but as the songs age, it’s more interesting to think about what this rapper-soul singer-actor-director will offer next.