Pete Doherty

Pete Doherty

A royal venue and a stage invasion should have made for a memorable night... Royal Albert Hall (July 12)

It’s quite sunny today,” falters the scruffy-haired, lanky figure, lost in the middle of a huge stage. “Did you go to the park? Did you have a good day, even if the concert’s shit?” There he goes again, always pre-empting our judgement. And it is tempting to see this near sell-out solo show as a make-or-break moment, but then how many of those has he had? Already tainted by the small matter of a three-month delay while Pete went back to prison, and with his solo album seemingly up in the air, it’s hard to figure out exactly why we’re all here. Pete looks like he’s having trouble figuring it out himself, winningly space-cadet as ever in suit and open-necked shirt, ambling around aimlessly with an acoustic guitar.

As he eases in with his Tony Hancock tribute ‘Lady Don’t Fall Backwards’ the crowd continues to chatter. Only occasionally tonight does Pete break out that demented squall that announced the opening of ‘Up The Bracket’, but even at its most subtle, that delicately perverse, lazy drawl demands attention. Well, it does at first. He follows up with another rarity, the ‘Help! A Day In The Life’ Warchild charity album track ‘Bollywood To Battersea’, that’s meandering and unformed. It hardly matters, though, when all he has to do is wander to the front of the stage, or strum the most mundane chord progression to inspire hysterical screams.

The problem is that, playing mainly Babyshambles and Libertines tracks, without the ramshackle energy of either band behind him, it’s two hours of just Pete and his limited guitar skills. In this vast space where the subtle words that are his greatest strength vanish into the ether (in the messy Libs divorce, it’s clear who kept the lyrical inspiration and who had the ability to write a structured pop song) it’s a bit much for all but the most besotted fan.

Not that all the 5,000-strong crowd are besotted. He takes the stage to calls of “We love you, Pete!”, “Go on, Pete!” and, less charitably, “Get a job!” A pleasantly nebulous ‘East Of Eden’ is marred as Pete chides a fan for talking on his phone. Later, someone throws a plastic bottle after a lacklustre ‘You’re My Waterloo’, which Pete promptly lobs back. There’s a brief scuffle before the bottle-chucker is dragged away to pantomime boos.

Why then, as ‘Killamangiro’ asks, would you pay to see him in a cage? Well, some people tonight were happy enough to fork out £30 to see Pete, the last of the near-extinct glamorous junkie clichés, strum shapelessly around a cartoon rock bad-boy cage purely of his own making (for all the paranoid, hypocritical mumblings of ‘You Talk’ and ‘UnBiloTitled). Of course, moments like the crowd roaring along to ‘Time For Heroes’, ‘Vertigo’ and, best of all, ‘Fuck Forever’ in this rarefied, Prommy space cut through the bullshit, even post-Winemouse, as do the now-almost-unbearable poignancy of ‘Music When The Lights Go Out’ and ‘What A Waster’. But as the encore of ‘I Wish’ ends in a stage invasion that’s about as spontaneously expressive and rock’n’roll as a jester hat at V, Pete makes a swift exit from the scrum and the bubble is burst.

So, is this The End For Pete Doherty? No, just one disappointing gig. It’s hard not to get caught up in either his own self-mythologising, the messianic fervour of his fans or the salacious ambulance-chasing of the tabloids and see it all as do-or-die dramatic. Maybe the end came some time back, when the die-hard Libs fans were so desperately trying to defend him, not with a bang but with a whimper. Maybe he will redeem himself, get a grip and get back to writing astonishing songs. Maybe gravity will stop working tomorrow. Happy endings still don’t bore us, but with so many new stories just beginning, how long are you going to hang around for one?

Emily Mackay