Babyshambles: Junction, Cambridge, Monday, January 23

Onstage reunion, fan adulation and a looming prison sentence – is this the dramatic end of the Babyshambles roadshow?

The air of uncertainty hanging around Babyshambles’ live shows has always been prevalent. For a band who live and die for the moment, every gig could be their last ever. Will Pete turn up? When? Or will he get into a spot of bother and end up spending the night at Her Majesty’s Pleasure? The fact that Pete has numerous charges of drugs possession hanging over him, and faces up to seven years behind bars if convicted, only adds to the frisson.

Tonight, Pete’s late again. Racing from London – having gone to pick up estranged guitarist Patrick Walden for a last-minute reunion – Doherty keeps a sweaty Junction at red-alert levels of mobbish tension, much to the chagrin of those who’ve only turned up to see the tabloids’ villain. “I wasn’t ever into The Libertines or Babyshambles,” Alex, 19, tells NME, “but it is the newspaper coverage which made me come tonight.”

But finally – call off the riot police! – four shadows appear and launch into a groove-laden ‘Black Boy Lane’, proving that when they want to pull it off, they can really pull it off. A vicious ‘8 Dead Boys’ lashes out at the doubters, with Pete almost reading their minds as he sings, “Well you look better than the last time, but still much better from afar”. It’s two fingers up to those judging a man on his Bizarre column coverage rather than the music.

But up close is where you need to be. The chiming harmonics of ‘Pipe Down’ boil over into a snarling, almost post-grunge beast. ‘Albion’ shines as a poignant call-to-arms for all of the lonely sailors who have lost their faith in the good ship Albion. With the threat of jail looming, Pete’s plea to “come away, won’t you come away” initially seems like a cry for escape from the world, yet turns into a paean of hope when supported by cheers from the collected mass. From their devotion, you’d imagine the entire Junction will be keeping a candle-lit vigil at the gates of Pentonville until 2013.

After tearing through ‘The Man Who Came To Stay’, ‘Gang Of Gin’ and ‘The 32nd Of December’, the band deal a bloody knock-out blow of ‘Killamangiro’ and ‘Fuck Forever’, leaving the crowd stunned as the lights come up. And they’re not the only ones. Speaking to NME backstage, Drew says: “We were late onstage because Pete went to Patrick’s house and picked him up. We walked on and Pat was there – I was left speechless.”

Two days later, Pete is arrested twice and the rest of the tour is cancelled. No doubt the future holds more unexpected twists and turns because Babyshambles are what rock’n’roll is all about – unpredictable, uncontrollable and passionate. Fuck the doubters, fuck the future, fuck forever – all that matters is that this band has been a part of our generation and no newspaper and no prison sentence can ever take that away.

Marc Hayward