Drinking in a pub close to Brixton Academy alongside a group of Pete Doherty look-alikes is a surreal experience but he’s the kind of guy who inspires extreme responses.
He may have forced the break-up of potentially one of the great bands of this decade, and frittered away much of his talent in a heap of emptied syringes, but when he jauntily strolls on stage with the rest of Babyshambles his fan club go wild for their fallen idol. Maybe they’re just glad that at least these days Pete actually makes it to the gigs and is able to perform live at all.
Though the place is half-empty before the appearance of the Great Anti-hero, the two support bands are worth a mention. The Noisettes have an interesting and original sound, with chanteuse Shingai Shoniwa’s jazzy vocals contrasting with a heavy rock backing band – a bit like Billie Holiday fronting the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
Unfortunately, though Shoniwa makes a striking figure cavorting on-stage (with her arm in a sling!) as if in some voodoo spell, the usual colours and tones in her singing are missing as she has to yell in order not to be drowned out by the thrash metal accompaniment. The Holloways are an eclectic, upbeat band, whose new single Generator has an infectious calypso beat which is given an indie-rock makeover.
Babyshambles’ one-and-a-quarter-hour set is far from a shambles but it still fails to convince us doubters. Of course the various changes in line-up haven’t exactly helped with the team-building spirit, but the main problem is that they just don’t have enough good material to carry off a whole show. Some of the songs from their debut album Down in Albion – especially the singles Killamangiro, Fuck Forever and Albion – stand up well in a live arena, but so many fail to make much of an impact.
Pete himself, swaying and staggering around in his inimitably languid way, manipulates the crowd as charismatically as ever – he doesn’t fall or dive off-stage this time but he certainly gets up close and personal with the adoring throng at the front. However, his voice is not strong enough to hold attention in its own right. You have to respect the fact that he resists the temptation to perform more of The Libertines’ songs that the crowd would so love to hear (they only do a couple) but he and Babyshambles don’t have the resources to draw on that Carl Barat and Dirty Pretty Things do with their impressive debut Waterloo to Anywhere.
The difference in musical levels between the two bands (it seems impossible not to compare them) is perhaps best summed up in the fact that while Paul Weller made a cameo appearance on-stage for DPT recently, Babyshambles featured fleetingly Pete’s other half, yes Miss Cocaine Chic herself, Kate Moss – not smoking this time but singing backing vocals on La Belle et la Bete. Was the choice of song significant, one wonders?
Pete may fancy himself as an Earl of Rochester-style bohemian poet, a hedonistic rebel without a cause, but at least his role model came up with the goods. The test for him and his band will be if they can concentrate on the songwriting in the next year and produce the second album that does justice to their undoubted talents and is worthwhile taking on the road. That’s if they last that long.