A large crowd descended upon the O2 Academy in Leeds for the highly anticipated return of Babyshambles. The atmosphere within the venue was charged as Pete Doherty and the rest of the band appeared on stage. As he arrived at his microphone Doherty proclaimed “I’m fine, I’m fine” and for a moment it looked like he really had become a changed man, but it didn’t last very long.
Either he is still the anarchic character he has always been, fuelled by various stimulants, or he has now adopted this behaviour as a careful crafted on-stage persona. At times both options seemed plausible as he teased the crowd and disrupted events in the manor we have come to except from him, but then at times his behaviour was too shambolic and uncoordinated to be an act. As they began the set with ‘Delivery’ the crowd bulged and pulsated and jostled down at the front.
As their new album Sequel To The Prequel had only been released a few days previously this was a chance for them to promote and showcase their new material. It was a chance that they took and they performed a good proportion of the new album, all of which were well received, but they also ensured they catered to their fans by playing a good mixture of previous fan favourites. The audience reaction to the new material was appreciative and still but during favourites like ‘The Blinding’ they were loud and energetic.
While the gig itself would have been entertaining and enjoyable but Doherty’s behavior made it truly memorable and you found yourself fixated on him wondering just what he was about to do next. From the moment he appeared he was his usual staggering, disheveled, wistful self. His lack of balance lead to a couple of moments where he had inadvertently stood on his guitar pedal, and he then seemed perplexed as to why his guitar had no output. In the early stages of the gig he seemed in control and like he was merely playing up to his reputation as his actions came across as robotic reactions to being on stage. The more he drank his persona changed, he went from cheeky barbs at the audience to spitting ice from his drink at them and threatening to launch his guitar, and himself, into the crowd. He became increasingly more erratic and anarchic. As his ripped his shirt, revealing his now much larger frame, he angrily loomed and swayed over the crowd reminding me of Sesame Street’s Big Bird but with a drunken sense of injustice. His manner was constantly changing, regularly flipping from passionately smashing things up and falling into the drum kit to lethargically sat, head in hands, mustering enough energy to complete the vocals.
Doherty completely overshadowed the band but it was the rest of the members of Babyshambles that held the gig together. Whether you regard Pete as a genius or a shambolic mess, personally I believe his genius is undeniable, he provides the kind of gripping entertainment factor that makes their performance so memorable.