Babyshambles : London Brixton Academy

Babyshambles : London Brixton Academy

He's a fight star...

Pete is everywhere. His omnipotence doesn’t just stretch over the pages of The Daily Hell, but over the entirety of tonight’s proceedings. He’s there, poking his head out of the window of the Academy, strumming approximately four chords for the queue of stunned revellers before promptly disappearing. The spectre of his black leather jacket and blacker hair then appears at the side of the stage for most of [a]The Paddingtons[/a] set. And, look, he’s even there, introducing the dreary pub blues of Lefthand with claps, cheers and almost vocals. He’s such a terrible tease.

So when Clash legend and Libs producer Mick Jones finally comes onstage to welcome Babyshambles into the spotlight, the feel of jubilation is palpable. Opener ‘Killamangiro’ is riotous – played at double speed, Pete sings with a new sense of purpose. He looks better than he has in a long time. Gone is the ghostly pale pallor and gauntness, in its place, a look of renewed vigour. The same goes for the band: Patrick might take some ill-advised detours during an extended guitar solo, but bassist Drew McConnell and new drummer Alex Ficek ably ground the band in spit’n’polish, ragtime rock’n’roll. Second song ‘Stix And Stones’ is halted halfway through due to the front rows being crushed, but while the flow is interrupted, Pete is undeterred. His new focus shifts to his lyrics which he spits out with a mix of vitriol and defiance. Every couplet sounds like two fingers to the dirty media hoard that have turned him into public enemy number one. Elegantly dismissive lines like: “Do you know me?/I don’t think so” (‘Do You Know?’) and, “Are you going to listen to what they say?” (‘I’m In Love With A Feeling’) are a million times more revealing than any of the red tops’ intrusive “exclusives”.

Then, just as quickly as it’s all come together, it all falls apart in the most am-dram way. In a hollow echo of the Pete/Carl dynamic, a fight breaks out between Patrick and Pete during the thorny ‘Gang Of Gin’. It is over in a moment, as security guards push them to the ground and the band exit the stage. The crowd is divided on whether this is a moment of pantomime drama (“In the red corner: Indie’s Defeated But Conquering Hero, in the blue corner: The Long-Suffering Guitarist!”) or if Babyshambles really have been stretched to breaking point. Whatever the truth is, a sense of having been had haunts the rest of the evening. And it’s a shame, because when the band reappear they reveal themselves to be as diverse as they are extreme. ‘Black Boy Lane’ is gingerly spiky, ‘What Katie Did’ becomes a stirring nursery-rhyme singalong and ‘Albion’ storms into the crowd like a force-12 hurricane. But it is new song and set-closer ‘Fuck Forever’ that seems to be the defining statement on where Pete is at the moment. In a single lyric, it manages to encompass the crux issue dogging Pete’s every move. “How do you choose between death and glory?” It is a haunting climax, and leaves the question mark poised indefinitely.

Priya Elan