Babyshambles : Blank Canvas, Leeds, Wed, Sept 22
The ambulance-chasers go home disappointed as the 'Shambles are reliably chaotic…
Most soap operas end with the cliffhanger. Twenty minutes ago Pete Doherty was safely asleep on the bus while the rest of his band were downstairs watching their Steptoe And Son DVDs. Now no-one can find him, even though he’s supposed to have been onstage 20 minutes ago and the restless audience are busy chucking bottles about and fighting each other. This is, after all, a man not particularly famous either for his organisational ability or timekeeping skills. Recently, in fact, he’s got into the habit of booking gigs and not subscribing to the time-honoured tradition of actually turning up to play the things. So, as that 20 minutes turns into half an hour, everyone’s starting to wonder: will Pete even play tonight at all?
Babyshambles are, as if you needed reminding, a band with baggage. Every night on their first proper UK tour is sold out and most of the gigs have been upgraded to bigger venues due to high ticket demand. But they come with a back story; one that includes crack, smack, burglary, knives, prison, Dot Cotton and those funny Thai puking monks. So no-one’s really here to see Babyshambles. Half of the audience are Libertines fans in guardsman’s jackets come to listen to the show with their eyes closed and pretend that it’s Pete and Carl (and Gary and John) up there. They’re the ones bellowing, “Peee-ter, Peee-ter!” And everyone else? Everyone else has come to see a car crash.
Happily, though, tonight the ghouls go home disappointed. Suddenly, Pete appears and the three Babyshamblers launch into the jaunty ‘The Man Who Came To Stay’ (B-side of forthcoming single ‘Killamangiro’) and it’s immediately obvious that this is going to be something a little bit special. Pete’s less a frontman and more just a glassy-eyed presence. Tripping over his own feet in a child-sized denim jacket with six inches of skinny wrist poking out at the sleeve, he looks startlingly like Sid Vicious. Except pastier, and with bigger bags under his eyes.
Accompanied by singer Dot Allison – the current Mrs Shambles if last week’s tabloids are to be believed, ie probably not at all – Pete plays an acoustic ‘Don’t Look Back Into The Sun’ before running through a sly version of New York antifolk hipsters The Moldy Peaches’ ‘Who’s Got The Crack?’ He doesn’t need to rely on other people’s songs, though. As well as the single there’s the stop/start ‘Fuck Forever’, the vitriolic ‘Gang Of Gin’, the swaggering, leery ‘Black Boy Lane’ and the muscular rockabilly-grunge of set-closer ‘Wolfman’. Fortunately, Libertines fans are always closet computer freaks, so everyone in the crowd already knows every word to every song from downloading them from the Babyshambles website.
After those disappointingly perfunctory recent Pete-less Libertines appearances, then, tonight is vindication. Not a clean break, exactly, but not a car crash either.