After the arenas, club shows and Chas & Dave duets, Pete and co hit Europe
Drop a needle (ahem) into Babyshambles’ recent tour diary. You’d be hard-pressed to guess what kind of show you’ve just skewered, because within the last two months Pete Doherty’s mob have played a slew of impressively slick, if slightly box-ticking arena shows as well as two gigs at Whitechapel sweat-pit the Rhythm Factory. One of the latter was a thrillingly chaotic show where the ’Shambles’ manager had to shine a torch so the audience could see them after the lights failed; the other saw Pete scurrying off to empty his guts after eight songs. Then there was the Shockwaves NME Awards Show launch party, where Pete’s last-minute cancellation paved the way for a teenage fan to replace him. Oh, and then there was a pub singalong with Chas & Dave.
Our own Awards show chaos aside, the question you’re inevitably asking by buying your pass to a Babyshambles gig these days is no longer whether the band will turn up but what the hell is going to happen? There are two guarantees with this Lotto ticket: a) absolutely none of the proceeds will go towards rebuilding tennis courts for teenagers in Middlesbrough and b) you’re going to get an event somewhere on the scale between clunkily captivating and life-affirmingly thrilling – something Babyshambles are a lot, actually, and with increasing frequency.
The signs for tonight’s show are mixed when we meet the band in the bar of the swisher-than-its-name-suggests Place de la Republique’s Holiday Inn. Drummer Adam Ficek, though in good spirits on the last night of the first leg of the band’s European tour, has been retching in his room with food poisoning. Bassist Drew McConnell is friendly but hungover, and guitarist Mik Whitnall is a touch cranky because he can’t find cash for his dinner, although several mojitos lighten his mood. Pete, meanwhile, is all sunshine smiles as he coos over the kitten he’s just bought in a local pet shop. Clearly, this man will never fear a customs officer.
It’s getting near showtime so we ask if they’re heading to soundcheck. “We didn’t soundcheck at Wembley!” Adam laughs. “I don’t think we’ll do it here.” We get the Kronenbourgs in.
Such casualness proves to be an error. Opener ‘Carry On Up The Morning’ is aborted after a minute, as is ‘Delivery’, the band suffering monitor troubles seconds after taking the stage to Beatles fan-style screams from the crowd, some of whom have been queuing for front-row spots for nine hours. A scurrying guitar tech quells the problem and, after the stilted lift-off, Babyshambles’ momentum chugs into being. Pete sheds his overcoat after ‘Beg, Steal Or Borrow’ before Drew and Adam whirr into the moody, stretchy intro to ‘Pretty Sue’ – shakily debuted at the Rhythm Factory a few weeks ago but now with a newly-sprouted funk-strut underpinning a hurdling chorus from Pete. ‘Unstookie Titled’ spawns its own stage accessory. “Smoking cigarettes down to the bone” Pete sings, prompting the front row to lob a confetti-cloud of cancer sticks at his frame to complement the leopard-skin headband, pink bra, trilby and gaudy necklace already offered up by strong-armed fans.
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It’s entertaining, if hardly lapel-grabbing stuff so Pete decides enough is enough. “Right,” he declares mock-sternly. “We’ve done the soundcheck now.” Cue the beautiful, chiming guitars of ‘UnBiloTitled’ – the greatest moment on ‘Shotters Nation’ and one that deserves to be considered ‘Albion’’s equal in the classic stakes – and things start cooking. The wall of security guards begins to bob involuntarily like they’re all listening to hip-hop on invisible iPods as the venue floor bends with every bounce that ‘Killamangiro’ induces. The screeching audience sing ‘You Talk’ as if it’s their own, and Mik’s downbeat harmonica on the aforementioned ‘Albion’ confirms the song is a bona fide anthem even if – just like most of the fans here – you’ve no conception of name-checked cities like Oldham or Newcastle. New song ‘Boy David’, meanwhile, with its exhilarating White Stripes whip-crack, suggests the future is just as bright.Paris kids are mental for The Libertines, and near set-closer ‘What Katie Did’ is the moment many have been waiting for. Not least the lad in the front row with the black Libs T-shirt clamped between his teeth, eyes closed as he stretches each second of the song around his head. Pete too gets caught in the moment, pummelling his mic on his monitor until it expires at the song’s death.
They end with the double-barrelled shot of ‘Pipedown’ and ‘Fuck Forever’, Pete rattling his body to every twang and making one final gesture to the fans. As the band clatter and spin to ‘Fuck Forever’’s end a fan makes a break for it, leaping stage-ward towards Pete, who grasps his flailing hand and attempts to haul him up. A bouncer ploughs in and punches the teenager’s arm until he lets go, then as he pings back into the melee the final note is plucked and it’s jaunt over. Thankfully, it’s the only kind of arm-bruising the band are involved in these days, and even in third gear Babyshambles are a rare, captivating spectacle. Now get back to the hotel and feed that kitten, Pete.