Brixton Jamm, London, April 6
And there we were, thinking the only dilemma flowing through Pete Doherty’s brain these days was whether to get up in the morning or wait until tomorrow instead. He hasn’t released a note of music since ‘Grace/Wastelands’ in mid-2009, and his numerous recent shows at this very venue, Brixton’s lair of lairiness, have all been ‘greatest hits’ affairs. Then, two NMEs ago, he told us about the 12 new songs ready to roll for his next solo album.
Herein lies the dilemma. The Libertines were unique because they combined literary whimsy with furious British rock’n’rollock. As a solo artist, with Babyshambles’ whipcrack rock in a state of nothingness, Pete channels the former. So when a pack of the UK’s drunkest boys and girls are baying for ‘What A Waster’ and
‘Time For Heroes’, does he play a greatest hits set, or unleash the Dylan-esque ditties he’s been crafting? Both, obviously.
For the first of two shows this evening, ‘Killamangiro’, ‘Delivery’ and ‘Time For Heroes’ (with a neat slab of The Smiths’ ‘Well I Wonder’ welded into the middle – interlude nods to Chas & Dave and The Stone Roses pop up later) are cannoned off before the Laurence Llewelyn Bowen-via-Austin Powers shirt on his back is even creased. They’re direct hits, of course – because he’s sounding the tightest he has for six months.
It gives Pete a chance to play the unreleased ‘Gangster’s Daughter’ without the crowd getting too antsy. “I made my way to your daddy’s door… so many suitors before” he croons over the sea shanty-ish song – a chorus as subtly hook-laden as ’Shambles tune ‘UnBiloTitled’ or his solo effort ‘Arcady’, both of which are played tonight too. An untitled newie follows, and sees vocals flicked to nasal and a ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’-esque yarn unfurling impressively.
Forty-five minutes, an adventure into the crowd, a ‘Fuck Forever’, a barrel change and an aborted new song (‘Nothing Comes To Nothing’) later, the second stint’s in motion. A right old knees-up it is too – ‘Up The Bracket’, ‘For Lovers’, ‘Tell The King’ (while wearing a Queen Liz mask, nice touch) are played acoustically and with a conviction a world away from recent messy gigs at Jamm.
Once more, the classics afford him a licence to meander – and he gives work in progress ‘Three Blind Mice’, with its impressive stop-start chorus, an outing. Then ‘Nothing Comes From Nothing’ again, this time played in full. Pete casually puffing on a glass vial during his last NME interview may have made some question the type of hits he’s got on his mind day to day, but this tune is the kind we need from him – Smiths-y, high-tempo, already classic-sounding. It’s the best he’s written since Babyshambles’ 2007 album ‘Shotters Nation’.
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Following it by ending the night with a touching rendition of his mate Amy Winehouse’s ‘Tears Dry On Their Own’ should serve as a reminder to him of the crossroads he’s at. Tomorrow it could all go wrong in a puff of toxic smoke, such is the unpredictability that makes Pete Doherty such a compelling musician. But tonight is a step in the right direction.
This article originally appeared in the April 21st issue of NME