UNDOUBTEDLY there’s something constructed about the polymath stylings of Londoner Ben Drew, who started out artistic life rapping as a more socially conscious equivalent of the Streets under his Plan B name and has since gone on to reinvent himself as a soul singer, filmmaker and actor.
This show brought all of these aspects to bear, although the big budget arena production made it harder to imagine the connection between Drew’s art and the streets of which they speak.
Bisected by a dazzling a cappella beatbox display from accomplice Faith SFX, Drew’s set featured his last two studio albums in full. The first, The Defamation of Strickland Banks, was the least convincing both on record and in person, with Drew and his full band producing a sound which mimics the more mature soul style of black America in the late 60s – most memorably on Love Goes Down, among many other examples of creditable pop songwriting with a bit of narrative depth, althoughhis voice is that of an indie-rocker rather than a silken-toned crooner.
The second, the soundtrack to his own film Ill Manors (clips of which were projected on monolithic screens in the background, along with the unlikely mug of John Cooper Clarke on Pity the Plight) were much more like it, a raw rap-rock take on post-riots London and the UK.
“I feel like David Cameron right now,” he joked in a pre-encore skit, “short changin’ the people.”
Nobody can ever accuse him of that.