Babyshambles/The Courteeners/Beggars: Apollo, Manchester, Sunday, February 10

Babyshambles/The Courteeners/Beggars: Apollo, Manchester, Sunday, February 10

It’s the old faithful Vs the new challengers: Round One…

Apparently there’s some other band on later,” grins a modest Liam Fray as he and his band swagger offstage. They’ve had their set prematurely curtailed – ironically, so that Pete and co can play on time – and the cacophony of disappointed boos that greet the news says it all. Tonight, the former Libertine at first seems but a sideshow to a huge Derby Day ’Teeners homecoming. Because, following a sparkling set of La’s-ian jangle-pop from Reading’s Beggars and in great form from the minute they hit the stage, The Courteeners tear into ‘Acrylic’ with an urgency that doesn’t let up for the entire 45 minutes. New single ‘Not Nineteen Forever’ is the pick of the bunch, sounding like Noel Gallagher fronting The Strokes, but every one of these riot-rockers already has anthem status round these parts, each inspiring nothing less than utter beer-flinging terrace-chanting pandemonium. “Cheers Manchester,” smiles Liam after ‘Cavorting’. “We used to dream of playing here.” Trust us, it won’t be long before they’re back – and next time it’ll be on their own terms.

How the hell do you follow that, then? Well, a year ago Babyshambles would probably have just sparked up the crackpipe and turned the tourbus around. Tonight, however, they raise their game accordingly, firing through the fantastic pop moments of ‘Shotters Nation’ with panache and aplomb. It seems the energised Pete who wowed the arenas last year is here to stay – for now at least. Pirouetting like a Tasmanian devil during ‘Baddie’s Boogie’ and leading the venue through

a – gasp – note-perfect ‘UnBiloTitled’. It’s notable, however, that aside from the odd stray pint threatening the hatstands and lampshades that litter the stage, these days drama is generally conspicuous in its absence: there’s no surprise guests, no inter-band scuffles, no tears in the front row – not even a meandering skiffle jam. Just a set of spasmodically brilliant indie-rock tunes played with the efficiency you’d expect of seasoned session players. All of which begs two important questions: are Babyshambles becoming a conventional indie outfit? And do we actually prefer it this way? Death and glory may be “one and the same” – but here’s hoping Pete’s sobriety and relevance are too.

Rick Martin