Babyshambles: Hammersmith Apollo, London; Thursday December 7

Onstage, on time and on form. No, seriously, we’re not making this up

When a lead singer starts dedicating songs to his lawyer, you know he’s been hanging in the wrong company. Even by Doherty’s standards it’s been a trying few days – he attended a party which ended with the death of a young actor, leading to the inevitable press and questions from the police. However, with the release of an EP of his best material for a year or so just behind him things seem a little more positive, musically at least.

Tonight, though, Pete’s in with the right crowd, ie a horde of adoring fans. Whether he deserves such unquestionable support is a well-worn debate – and one that will only be answered in Babyshambles’ favour if they produce something more memorable than thousands of disposable tabloid words. But what’s new there?

Abruptly, and – note – punctually, the boys take the stage, and without muttering so much as a ‘hello’, kick into ‘The Blinding’ over the endless roar of the unquestionably loyal fans. Behind him, Pete’s army, fine-tuned by a diet of unpredictability, have mutated into a top quality band and are no longer the rag-tag gang of old. There is a peculiar onstage camaraderie that can switch in an instant – though there are times when Pete sweetly embraces new guitarist Mick Whitnall as a show of solidarity, minutes later he can display such disregard for his bandmates that they resemble a backing band to a solo star. By the time they reach fifth song ‘Pipedown’, Pete has left his guitar behind altogether and is confronting the welcoming audience with all the wasted melodrama of a 14-year-old piss-head. It’s during such moments when the band fade into the background of Pete’s performance, with drummer Adam Ficek slinking off to eat a banana while his singer woos the crowd. Not that he needs to try too hard – there’s an atmosphere of unconditional fanaticism in the room that most MCR fans would blush at. Throughout a rousing and jittery ‘Killamangiro’ he often substitutes entire phrases for simple grunts, but these somehow garner the same cheers of adulation as his dreamy whispers on ‘What Katie Did Next’. Once they kick into the oldie-but-goldie ‘Time For Heroes’, one senses the group is playing-by-numbers rather than giving blood, sweat and tears – more than likely because it’s abundantly clear they don’t need to. Tonight’s crescendo is ‘Fuck Forever’, as Pete responds to the crowd’s overwhelming screeches by careering into the steaming moshpit.

For the epic finale, ‘Albion’, the band gracefully swoops through an extended version of the song, which is increasingly metamorphosing into Doherty’s signature tune, raising enough of a singalong to suggest it’s overtaken ‘Jerusalem’ as the public’s national anthem of choice. The microphone goes flying into the throng, the shirt off his back is tossed in, even his guitar is gallantly swung into the sweaty clutches of one very lucky, if slightly bruised, fan.

Tonight may not be perfect, but – coming as it does after the fuck-you-we’re-back blast of ‘The Blinding EP’ – it certainly marks yet another step towards Pete’s rehabilitation.

Chantal Feduchin-Pate