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PLAN B / LIAM BAILEY @ THE APOLLO THEATRE, MANCHESTER 02/03/11 – REVIEW BY PHIL KING

Playing the Apollo theatre in Manchester denotes a significant moment in an artist’s development.  With a capacity of 3,500 (2,514 standing, 986 seats), it’s considerably larger than that of Academy 1, and, the final rung in the ladder to being crowned a megastar at the MEN Arena.  One artist on his way to booking a date at the MEN is Londoner Ben Drew, or, to give him his stage name, Plan B.  Initially a foul mouthed rapper, he’s made a somewhat miraculous transformation to reinvigorate his career as a retro-soul singer.  And, with the release of the darkly wonderful ‘The Defamation of Strickland Banks’ CD, has won no less an accolade than best British male solo artist at this year’s Brit Awards.  This makes Plan B officially a big star.  However before he can embark on a stadium tour, there’s the relatively small matter of entertaining an Apollo theatre that’s packed to the rafters with eager punters. 

There’s only one support act tonight, and it’s Liam Bailey who’s been given thirty minutes to show his talents.  Benefiting from the patronage of the great Amy Winehouse, who was so impressed with Bailey’s ability that she’s released two EPs worth of his music on her Lioness label, Bailey now has to show his stuff to what I presume is the biggest audience he’s faced so far.  From the outset it’s clear that Bailey and his band have a clear mission to play some gritty soul sounds which they do with ease and is much to this crowds liking.  We get treated to new single ‘You Better Leave Me’ as well as tracks from his forthcoming Salaam Remi produced album.  As it’s unlikely that many here tonight would’ve previously heard anything by Liam Bailey, the strength of the material and Bailey’s husky, soulful voice manages to win the crowd over. Somewhere during his short set he manages to break not one, but two microphones which must be some kind of record.  But two broken mics aside, Liam Bailey’s set really is a small triumph, and a fleeting glimpse at an artist with real promise.  

 

 

A hit record has the effect of attracting a mixed crowd. And it couldn’t be more true tonight’s because all ages and types are in attendance and eagerly waiting for the arrival of Plan B.  The lights eventually go down and a lone figure strides onto the stage and… gives the weirdest performance I’ve ever seen.  It turns out not to be Plan B but human beatbox Faith SFX who uses his ‘voice’ to imitate percussion sounds and really needs to be seen to be believed.  Faith SFX uses the ten minutes or so he’s been given to ratchet up the tension until Plan B and his band finally hit the stage.      

As happens with most concerts these days, the moment the nattily dressed Plan B becomes visible, half the crowd clap and cheer while the other half stand stock still in an attempt to record all the action on their mobile phones.  Plan B and the band give everyone something to dance to and film by getting straight down almost immediately with the boisterous ‘Writing’s On The Wall’, and from here on in the crowd is fully behind him.  It seems that Plan B is partial to making short films himself because each song that’s played tonight is accompanied with a video that a theatrical representation of the song.  In truth I could have done with less of it because it there was enough happening on the stage without having to crane ones neck to look at a screen.  By the end it became more of a distraction to the show than complimenting it and probably would’ve been better if it had have been used more sparingly.

 

 

 

‘The Defamation of Strickland Banks’ is packed solid with gems and each one that gets played tonight is greeted like an old friend, though the biggest cheer of the night is saved for the killer punch that closes the show, hit single ‘She Said’ 

The only low point comes at the encore which Plan B begins with some cheesy versions of some great soul classics.  As good as his voice is, it struggled to give anything new to these great records and brought what was a great show, almost down to the level of a karaoke act.  Fortunately he managed to redeem himself by ending with an absolutely belting version ‘Stay Too Long’

 

In all probability this will be the last time people will get to witness Plan B/Ben Drew in a venue of this size.  This was a wonderful performance by an artist who’s ready to take the final step to greatness        

Setlist:

Writing’s On The Wall
Free
Prayin’
Welcome To Hell
Love Goes Down
Traded In My Cigarettes
Charmaine
Tha Recluse
I Know A Song
What You Gonna Do
She Said

Encore:

Medley
Stay Too Long

http://www.liambaileymusic.co.uk
http://www.myspace.com/liambaileyuk
http://www.time4planb.co.uk

Review by Phil King
Photos by Mel
Video from youtube