Babyshambles, The Forum, London

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The Independent Culture

If Carl Barat still awaits his prodigal compadre's meek return home, he had better find a good book to read. On this showing, Pete Doherty's new band are ready to step up from cult oddity to mainstream attraction.

If Carl Barat still awaits his prodigal compadre's meek return home, he had better find a good book to read. On this showing, Pete Doherty's new band are ready to step up from cult oddity to mainstream attraction.

Ejected from The Libertines until he could defeat his drug addiction, Doherty's side project soon took on greater importance, albeit with a handful of ramshackle performances when they turned up at all. Mainly thanks to their frontman's charisma, Babyshambles have now gatecrashed the Top 10. This just ahead of a date at the venue he played this time last year with this old band, an event recorded for posterity on the promo for their hit "Can't Stand Me Now".

Despite chart success, disorder has still followed the band. In only the past few days, a crowd barrier collapsed in Coventry, while late arrival at a charity gig was seen by many as a slight too far. Staff in Kentish Town took no chances, with photographers removed from their customary position in front of the stage. A good call, for even before the band's arrival, several members of the audience had to be rescued from the mêlée.

Doherty emerged in sharp black suit and trademark trilby. He slurred and swayed his way on to the stage, but as soon as the music began he was transformed. For the next hour you could not take your eyes off him as the frontman, without his guitar, was a constant whirl of movement. He glad-handed the audience, tried on a succession of hats thrown by the crowd and moved with the jerky energy of a marionette.

Yet Babyshambles was about more than one man. Equally impressive in the four-piece were Gemma Clarke, who displayed rare subtlety behind the drumkit, backed by power and stamina. Meanwhile, shy guitarist Patrick Walden filled out the band's sound with a variety of unexpected styles.

Still, their debut single, "Babyshambles", was a mess, and raucous current hit "Killamangiro" could not compete with what are set to become their signature tunes. Both showed the band's ease with a more open sound, akin to the reggae stylings of The Clash. First came the stomping anthem "Fuck Forever", where Doherty defiantly expounded his live-for-today philosophy. Then he continued The Libertines' vision of a romanticised Britain with the stately "Albion" that matched "leaves on the lawn" with "violence at bus stops".

Still the band teetered on the edge of chaos. Under a hail of plastic glasses, Doherty stage-dived into the crowd, emerging minus his jacket. For the Libertines number, "What Katy Did", he brought on a child to sing with him, though the beaker-chucking continued. This only registered with Doherty when he started the next song, causing him to hurl his mike to the floor and threaten not to play until the culprit was ejected.

His band restarted "Killamangiro" with more force, though they could not maintain such intensity for the whole set. Yet by then Babyshambles had made the leap from pub venue to theatre. The sideshow is fast becoming the main event.

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