Jeremy Clarkson once wrote an article in The Times about rock ‘n’ roll and its excesses. He dismissed bands of the day as predictable and overly sanitised, concluding that the ’70s was a high point for the genre that may never be reached again – for the simple fact that guitar music back then was filled with danger, unpredictably and a rawness barely seen since. One desired to watch a band live, he said, merely because there was no guarantee that the group members would be alive in a week’s time.
He had a point. In an age where the masses get excited by safe, agreeable Coldplay-inspired balladry, having a few rulebook smashing types around – like Mr Doherty – adds more than a little flavour to the music world. Granted that his media ubiquity in recent months has become tiresome, but we’d be lying if we said his name hadn’t been dropped into many a conversation of ours. He provokes a reaction, which is something of an overlooked quality.
And this is precisely the reason why Rock City was a complete sell-out this evening. Along with the rest of the current Babyshambles tour, in celebration of their latest single Fuck Forever, tickets are precious commodities – for these are pieces of cardboard that offer the buyer something none other of its kind could possibly do: entry into an event where there is no telling what will happen.
For the record, tonight the band were magnificent. Arriving on stage more or less on time, give or take 10-15 minutes – a surprise manifested by gasping crowd members – they played for an hour and a quarter, chaotically running through the bulk of their material and occasionally exhilarating with some moments of true brilliance.
Doherty, appearing relatively sober, was on best behaviour. There was no vomiting on stage, nor soaking of photographers (as had been reported from the opening dates of the tour), this was a surprisingly professional display. He even looked like he was enjoying himself – jumping around with the music, characteristically mumbling into the microphone and exchanging pleasantries with the front row, he couldn’t have been a starker contrast to the out-of-control freak show that the media continuously portray.
The highlights were plentiful – debut single Killamangiro saw the band joined onstage by Tom Atkins of support band The Paddingtons, to provide a memorable sing along moment. Fuck Forever was monumental, possessing a swagger not fully captured on record and Wolfman saw Doherty in particularly animated form. Needless to say, the crowd were as boisterous as one could imagine, and would have probably eaten the glass on the floor should Doherty have asked them to.
“What a shambles,” sang Doherty on the band’s title track Babyshambles, but this was not entirely the case tonight. There were certainly moments were his vocals sounded overly slurred and where you wondered whether the whole thing would fall apart there and then, but as stated previously, herein lies their appeal – as their name would suggest, they are not the most tight knit unit around. They did manage to pull it off however, somewhat against the odds, and for 24 hours at least, Pete Doherty was a vindicated man.