Kingston Hippodrome, London, August 16
Every time we think we’ve got ol’ P-Do sussed, the contrary bastard goes and surprises us again. Earlier this year everything was going brilliantly – he’d written new tunes, was preparing for his cinematic debut in Confession Of A Child Of The Century, and had less negative column inches than ever. Then he got kicked out of Thai rehab for being a disruption in a place designed to help people who are, by nature, disruptive. So at his first UK gig since this little debacle, it wouldn’t be too out of line to expect a bit of a shit-shower. But no.
Arriving onstage five minutes early (yep, your eyes don’t deceive you), Doherty is on the best form we’ve seen in ages. He’s so professional it’s almost a bit weird. There are no slightly cracky-looking ‘special guests’, no meandering half sung/half forgotten tidbits. He’s as close to a normal, consummate artist as, perhaps, he has ever been. And although it makes for a different atmosphere to the ramshackle norm, he’s got one hell of a setlist.
Libertines-heavy and with barely any filler (Doherty keeps strumming a few bars of some of his solo work, then thinks better of it and launches into a classic), tonight is basically a greatest hits set. A little warm-up and we’re into ‘Time For Heroes’; then, with harmonica strapped on, comes the Dickensian whimsy of ‘Arcady’ and a huge, singalong ‘Music When The Lights Go Out’. Almost 10 years old, it’s still as joyously affecting as ever.
We get ‘Up The Bracket’, ‘The Boy Looked At Johnny’ and ‘What A Waster’. We get the peaks of his ’Shambles arsenal (‘Fuck Forever’, ‘Beg, Steal Or Borrow’) and his solo efforts (‘Sheepskin Tearaway’) and just enough curveballs (in new track ‘Down For The Outing’ and a full cover of The Beatles’ ‘She Loves You’) to remind us that this is still Pete. It is, by all accounts, an unexpected triumph. Now here’s hoping his next surprise is just as positive.