What a waster? The Tab reviews Babyshambles!
Caitlin Coulson considers both Pete Doherty’s musical prowess and his love of penguins
Pete Doherty, like most cult stars who command God-like status among their fans, lacks respect from many. Of course, this isn’t evident at the jam-packed and slightly worse for wear (or “smashed” if you will) Cambridge Junction. There were rumours that he’d planned to cancel the whole tour on the basis he already had a girlfriend so there was no point, and whilst I’m unsure how credible these rumours are, it’s certainly worth pointing out that Babyshambles don’t need to play such a tiny venue (and it really is that); this is a band who’ve played Wembley Arena comfortably. So is his lack of respect ill-deserved?
Whilst his solo album “Grace/Wastelands” and tour were mellow, tonight there is not an acoustic guitar in sight. It is indisputably a punk show, of which his onetime producer Mick Jones would be proud. “Delivery” is a popular opener, performed by a band who are (hold your breath) tight. Pete can charm the crowd and, for lack of a better description, shamble about, because the rest of Babyshambles provide a supportive swaddling, which is both lovely and necessary.
The new album “Sequel to the Prequel”, of which they play a lot, goes down very well. The songs stand up and although there is a slight lack of quality control (I’m looking at you “Penguins” – a song in which the peak of the chorus, from a man we know is capable of lyrical genius, is “penguins are great”), even this worst song is performed brilliantly. The standout tracks from the new album, though, are “Fall from Grace” and “Fireman”, which are brilliant to the point you might fear for your life in the crowd.
In case there are any disappointed Daily Mail readers, we should of course gossip about Pete. He’s not sober, and downs enough drinks that any student would be proud. It doesn’t detract at all though, which shouldn’t surprise given the state in which he made “Down in Albion”, which is at least 50% genius (and possibly 50% heroin . Still). Actually, whilst we’re on the subject, I hate to go into real tabloid territory, but given his predilection for the ol’ recreational substances, he does look rather plump. Yet (and prepare for reviewing brilliance here) he’s just so sweet. At one point, someone throws a bra which gets stuck on his guitar (which actually might be in need of nowadays); baffled by this turn of events, he just styles it out. He also, after an unsuccessful attempt to play the theme from Pulp Fiction, borrows his roadie’s arms, and they play it together, in a wonderfully bizarre “Pulp Fiction”/“Ghost” hybrid. Loveliest of all, and I have never seen anyone take a request, when a boy asks him to play “Lost Art of Murder” for his girlfriend, Pete actually does. And despite the fact he clearly can’t quite remember it, and it’s on brutal electric guitars, it turns out to be beautiful.
Much as cynics might expect them to, it is not Libertines songs which hold up the set. Instead, it’s “Down in Albion” classics like “Killamangiro” and “Pipedown”, both goose bump inducingly brilliant, that, in the wise words of Will Ferrell, get the people GOING . However, “Carry on up the Morning” and “Side of the Road”, which, incidentally, might be the fastest song I’ve ever heard played live, from “Shotter’s Nation” are so delightfully punk that they are standout tracks.
The encore is a funny one. I’m not making allegations, but the break is suspiciously long and when the band, returns, Pete is noticeably twitching, and his ability to play guitar coherently goes a little downhill. It’s not an issue though. As I said, the set is not reliant on Libertines songs, so when they sneak into “Time for Heroes”, there is not a sense of expectancy, but of being given a lovely treat – and it really is a treat, because if you’ve never heard a thousand people bellow the phrase “There’s fewer more distressing sights than that/Of an Englishman in a baseball cap” then there’s something missing from your life. When, after a good hour and a half, they finally belt out “Fuck Forever”, it is climactic verging on dangerous as we become unusually deranged. I should point out that security has been lax (they’ve looked a bit upset at Pete’s chain-smoking all evening and the tobacco revolution has sparked within the crowd) because when one lad storms the stage he is the third to have managed it. Babyshambles’ own security are, unsurprisingly, raging by this point, and have him in a very tight grip. Maybe it was just affection for his fans, or an unwitting act of mercy, but Pete gives him the microphone and lets him sing a bit. This is representative of just how genuinely nice he seems throughout.
The rest of Babyshambles, even after all these years, are naturally compared to the Libertines, and it’s true that the drummer, whilst good, is no Gary Powell, but they hold the whole thing together, and as a band they are so different to his solo work that I’m sure they contribute more than people credit them. And Pete…well, Doherty may be a shambles, but it’s time we stopped seeing that as a bad thing. Tonight we saw that flash of genius…and nowadays he even turns up.