Plan B 1/13/11
Troubadour – West Hollywood, CA
Words and photos by God Frank
Okay, I’ll admit it. I knew absolutely nothing about Ben Drew and Plan B until Tuesday of this week. Having built up an obscene amount of Rockaholics points on the 98.7fm website I traded in my points for a bunch of contest entries for a bunch of different bands/contests. Just my luck, the one contest I won was for the one band I knew nothing about. But hey, I’m not gonna turn down a free show and obviously I have the internet, so I did some research online, watched some youtube videos and decided this could be a decent show. That turned out to be quite an understatement.
So with minimal knowledge of Plan B’s music (I think I only heard 6 songs online) I headed out to The Troubadour on Thursday night to hear what the 98.7 and Plan B websites touted as the #1 selling artist in the UK in 2010.
So for those of you who, like me 3 days ago, know nothing about Plan B, the “B” stands for Ben Drew who is the lead singer. Even after reading the official Plan B website and the unofficial Wikipedia page, I’m not totally sure if Plan B is the full band and all the members are full time Plan B members, or if Plan B is just Ben’s alter ego and the band is just his touring band. I apologize in advance if I reference them incorrectly during this review. With that, onto the show!
After a particularly uninspiring DJ set from someone whose name I can’t remember and I don’t think I would bother to give him a mention if I did remember, and lights went down and a Brit who is NOT Ben Drew came out on stage. I thought he was just there to introduce the band. Much to my initial chagrin it turned out to be a beat boxer named Faith SFX who was there to warm up the crowd. People who think they can beat box are a dime a dozen. People who are actually good at it are incredibly rare. So when Faith SFX came out I was a little concerned. That concern was very short-lived however.
Faith SFX is actually talented as hell, not only beat boxing, but imitating various instruments before he started playing actual songs that almost sounded like they were coming from a full band using nothing more than his mouth. When he busted out “I Like To Move It” he actually had the entire club dancing and cheering. His job was to warm up the crowd and he more than achieved that goal. After my initial trepidation, he not only won me over, but completely impressed me. He could have performed for another 20 minutes and nobody in the club would have minded, including me. But alas we were there for Ben Drew and Plan B, so with the crowd effectively worked up into a frenzy, they took the stage.
You know you aren’t watching a US band when everyone comes out dressed nicely in vests and ties, looking like they are ready for a night on the town rather than playing in a band. Starting with “Writings on the Wall” and quickly transitioning into “Free,” Ben and the band began a night of soul that was entertaining, fun, and completely unexpected.
The third song of the night was “Pray,” which I have to say, was the one song I listened to earlier in the week that I wasn’t impressed with. While the original version is still not a favorite of mine, they mixed up the song a little bit for the show, picking up the tempo and adding some more guitar riffs which had me really enjoying the performance. Then midway through the song during a musical break Ben asked the crowd if we liked reggae and then they proceeded to switch up the music and did a reggae version of the song for the next verse. After the reggae verse, he again switched things up asking the crowd if they liked rock going semi-hard core for the rest of the song. It was pretty impressive. When you can take my least favorite song for your band and turn it into one of the highlights of the night, you have some serious talent, and that was exactly what they did.
After a couple strong performances of “Welcome 2 Hell” and “Love Goes Down” I was completely sold on Plan B. Instead of taking it easy though, Ben and the boys amped things up even more with a completely rousing performance of “The Recluse” which was hands down the highlight of the main set. They had the entire club dancing and singing along. At this point I was officially a fan.
Then two songs later they finished their main set, way too early, with what I believe is Plan B’s biggest hit so far, “She Said.” It was a fantastic performance but then Ben said good-night to the crowd and the entire band left the stage after only a 45 minute set. That is probably the one negative I would say about the night. If you are a headliner, you really should play at least an hour long set.
Luckily though, the crowd wouldn’t let them stop and kept screaming, demanding an encore. Ben and the band was more than happy to oblige and came back out to play some more.
After announcing that he wanted to play some songs that inspired him and that he grew up on, they played a medley of old soul classics. From Smokey Robinson (“Tracks of my Tears”) to the Temptations (“My Girl”) it was a very unexpected set, but the surprises were just beginning.
Out of nowhere, Faith SFX joined the band on stage and started beat boxing adding a hip hop flavor to incredible performances of “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Kiss from a Rose.” Both songs were flat out amazing. It was completely inspired and showed true artistry from both Plan B and Faith SFX. I wish there was video of those performances because I would watch them both over and over again. That transitioned into Ben going back to his rap roots with a reimagining of Eminem’s “Forgot about Dre,” naturally replacing Dre with “B.”
Need another surprise? At this point Ben addressed the crowd before the final song to say how special it was to be playing the Troubadour because one of his mentor’s started his career there, and then he pointed out that Elton John was in the house up in the balcony! Having noticed online that Ben and Elton performed a duet together last year I thought for a moment that we were gonna get treated to a repeat performance of that duet. Alas, that was not in the cards. Thanks for the tease Ben!
There was still one more song to go though, and for the last song of the night Plan B broke out what was easily my favorite song, “Stay Too Long.” It’s a phenomenal mix of soul, rock and rap that gets me dancing every time I hear it. If Ben or anyone at the record label reads this, that is your single to cross over into the US! I could easily see hearing it on the radio here in the states.
It’s a high energy party song that had the entire place jumping out of their shoes. With Faith SFX and Ben starting a band mosh pit on stage, and the crowd starting a mini mosh pit on the floor, that was for me the highlight of the evening and a perfect way to end the night.
Unfortunately, this was the second stop on a very short, 2-stop US tour and Plan B is on the way to New Zealand as I write this. So those of you here in the states may have a long wait until you get to experience what was easily one of the best shows I’ve seen in years. The show did sell out a few days ahead of time though, so we can hope for a return trip to the states soon.