Dan Round 25/04/2006
This, being a Babyshambles gig, was never going to be a straightforward affair. Having managed to push ourselves to the front of the near-packed Civic Hall during the second support slot, my friend Sam and I were, like the vast majority of the audience by 10:30 - a full 75 minutes after the previous band's departure - getting restless.
Every time a roadie went on stage to change a guitar, or set up an amp, cheers echoed through parts of the room, in hope that the band were coming on, but nothing happened. Recently arrested guitarist Patrick Walden, re-acquainted with Babyshambles who sacked him in February, was seen a number of times on the side of the stage with a puzzled look on his face, but no Pete. People began talking of a not uncommon "no-show" by Pete, who was spotted in Birmingham earlier in the day.
At 10:40, about the time they were scheduled to depart from the stage, the band walked on to an explosive roar of boos and hisses, a well-voiced majority that drowned out the few cheers and handclaps. I say they walked on - lead singer Pete Doherty stumbled on to the stage, and fell over. It may have been because he had no shoes on; it may be because of the shock of the terrible reception from the enraged crowd (even bottles were flung onstage at his direction); but more likely it was the drugs. Pete, in a black and white suit and trademark hat, was clearly 'wasted'. After at least 5 minutes of setting up gear and rummaging around the stage, they started up. Not quickly, it has to be said - A few harmonics and distorted chords rang from Pat's axe, and the odd percussive sequence from drummer Adam at the back of the stage, along with Doherty's high pitched squeal, and then they suddenly burst into life - "Paddy put the pipe down" screamed Pete and the 3,500 or so in the audience.
All was forgiven - he had turned up at least, and the audience felt they were in the presence of a modern indie-rock God, despite his late arrival. The band then trailed through their well-received debut album, 'Down in Albion' as well as a substantial collection of new songs and unreleased material. 'Killamangiro' was terrific and played with raw energy; 'Albion' was as beautiful and anthemic as always, and live it retained all the intensity of the demo version (far superior to the LP version). But the genius was only partial: hit single and fans' favourite 'Fuck Forever' lost its urgency and passion, with Pete missing out large chunks of lyrics; 'Sticks and Stones' and '8 Dead Boys' were muted and tiresome, and 'Merry Go Round' (presuming it was Merry Go Round, if not a mutated, altered twin) was almost unrecognisable and all the worse for it. For most of the gig, Pete was also was a wreck on stage.
About halfway through the gig, a laptop had to be brought on so he could sing his forgotten lyrics, and they played two versions of album opener 'La Belle et la Bete': one with Pat on guitar and the other with Pete singing and playing (bassist Drew McConnell filling in with Kate Moss' vocal part). Either Pete decided that it would be beneficial for the patient gig-goers to hear two versions of the song (which can't be feasible as it was practically unchanged), or more likely, he just forgot he they had already played it. He also dropped his guitar (or rather Pat's guitar) responding dozily with "That's what you get when you try and be cool" and he forgot the support bands had already played ("You've seen the support bands, yeah?"). The new/previously unreleased songs were mainly drab and uninspiring compared to his early flourishes, prompting me to be pessimistic of the band's chances of forging a consistent second album (even the 1st is a couple of tracks too lengthy). Newie 'The Blinding' is quite good, though, reminiscent of early, optimistic, uplifting Libertines. Maybe the others need second hearings, or indeed a performance by Pete Doherty minus the crack or whatever other substance(s) he was probably high on.
However, the atonal shambling that make up most of the gig is overshadowed by the sheer brilliance of a few, select songs. The bass line of 'A'rebours' rippled down the spines of the bouncing crowd, and Pete gave his all vocally; '32nd of December' and 'Loyalty Song' were given the sing-along treatment. They even had time for a cover of 'Waterfall' by the Stone Roses (led into via the into of "Arcady", another rarity) despite being told that at 11, just 20 minutes after arriving, they had to leave. They didn't, and they carried on for another hour.
The moment of the night though, was when they shocked everyone by playing 'Time For Heroes'. One of just two classics by Pete's old band The Libertines performed (the other was an oddly slowed down version of 'What Katy Did'), it gripped everyone and Pete was visibly enjoying himself playing it. The crowd's sing-a-long at times even drowned out Pete's accented and amplified vocals, and his passionate lyrics such as “It's not right for young lovers to be coughing up blood” and “There are fewer more distressing sights than that of an Englishman in a baseball cap” gained an added aggression when manifested live.
The final 15 minutes, however, toned down and they were shoved off reluctantly by the on-edge Civic staff. They didn't have time to finish on a bang (the audience screamed for 'What a Waster', 'The Boy Looked at Johnny' and 'Up the Bracket' in particular), instead ending with the duller moments of Down in Albion ('What Katy did next', 'In Love with a feeling') and previewing the largely uneventful new songs. Despite the genuine sadness I feel for Pete's condition and the disappointment of the majority of the songs played, the genius was still there and at their best the band were superb. In this respect, it overpowers the 'less inspiring' moments, and despite being mad even for their standards, it was a night I will unlikely forget as full of memorable paradoxes (both good and bad).