First Night: Babyshambles, The Academy, Birmingham

Rock's pied piper of the apocalypse proves he's on a road to somewhere
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The Independent Culture

What to make of this Peter Doherty fellow? Is he moronic or Byronic, wan-faced pied piper of the apocalypse or a beautiful mess? Even without the endless procession of lurid "drugs shame'' red-top headlines, few in modern times have managed to combine squalid ruin with such glamour and romanticism.

Through Doherty's golden-brown-tinted shades, he spouts dreamy Utopian references about Arcady and the good ship Albion, fusing them with Dickensian urchins, dispossessed, rude youth and heroic punk outsiders. But his poetic, shakily literate musings have never developed much beyond doodles on scraps of paper. Everything Doherty has produced, from the Libertines' four-year-old, first single, "What A Waster'', and album, Up The Bracket, has been carelessly dragged out of the oven half-baked and semi-comatose, the misshapen pastoral muddle from his post-fallout group Babyshambles even more so.

Helped in no small part by his entanglement with Kate Moss (and appropriately chaotic relationship most lucidly explained on the Babyshambles' Moss-Doherty duet "La Belle et Le Bete'' - his last encore song tonight Sans Kate), Doherty and his legions have bridged the gap between sartorial high fashion and the jumble sale.

It's the embodiment of the prevalent work ethic: a job's only worth doing if it's done sloppily.

Babyshambles gigs are gambles, often thwarted by Doherty's self-induced unconsciousness, the long arm of the law, forced rehab or some bloody chaos, and if the band finally makes it on stage, will it be for an hour or half a song? And will Doherty slur as incoherently and off-key, less or more so than on Down In Albion, the album they haphazardly sleepwalked through before being dumped by their label Rough Trade (though soon picked up by Parlophone)?

Yet this is the most coherent, dynamic and, yes, thrill-filled I've seen Babyshambles. They manage more than an hour, buoyed along by a near-hysterical crowd. This is unmistakably the cult of celebrity working overtime. Nobody could celebrate Babyshambles for their musical finesse, but the energy generated by their presence is tangible.

Guitarist Patrick Walden - back in the fold after he split from the band earlier in the summer - plucks basic, humdrum tunes, but it's Doherty who is the sole focus. "Kilamangiro'' kicks things off and other unlikely Top 10 hits such as "Albion'' and "Fuck Forever'' are received as if they were Oasis or Killers anthems. The old Libertines hit "Time For Heroes'' gets the most fulsome cheer, however - a reunion with his old pal Carl Barat would fill any stadium. The "kids in the riot'' (as mentioned in the song) would follow their Pete to hell and back. Necklaces, expensive-looking hats, cigarettes, pink teddy-bear glove puppets, everything but knickers are flung on stage by the pulsating mass.

"We're on the road to fuck knows where,'' Doherty intones in his sometimes Paul Weller-esque voice - amazingly rarely dipping out of tune. Tonight he proved it's not a dead end.