Tonight we have come expecting the casual, ramshackle charm and strangely whimsical grace of Babyshambles circa 2009 and Grace/Wastelands but the band’s new album, Sequel to the Prequel seems almost unnaturally controlled and surprisingly vibrant.
Pete Doherty’s nervous energy feels forced at first - his croaking slurs become less agreeable with age and his sense of laconic wonder and energy seem wearied. The raggedy grunge twangs and punk thrashes of "8 Dead Boys" kick him into action while "Doctor No’s" tight reggae jolts are unexpectedly smooth.
Babyshambles’ togetherness feels like a strangley concerted effort throughout but it works better on the newer tracks like “Sequel to the Prequel”. Guitarist Mik Whitnall and temporarily recruited Stereophonics drummer, Jamie Morrison, work to keep some coherence with earlier, rambling tracks. Fans’ shouts haunt the back of the crowd, with requests for “Time For Heroes!” and “Can’t Stand Me Now” from The Libertines’ impressive back catalogue. Doherty’s snarls and howls are taken charge of as he hammers his oddball whimsy into something focused and fun on "Maybeline". Occasionally you see the band members’ watchful eyes reeling Doherty back from his swaying, swaggering dream world as his half-hearted moans and groans coolly deflate the atmosphere.
Highlights of the night are "Pipedown" and the mosh-worthy "F*** Forever" which ends in a sweaty exhaustion. "Albion" too sees a pulsating tidal wave of girls crushed up at the front while trilbys are tossed in the air. Later, a group of stocky men wipe away a tear at his warmth on “There She Goes”. The Doherty phenomenon is not one to be underestimated; his charisma unites.
Whether in the punk strops or low-slung melodies there is a sense of control that makes the new songs coherent, vibrant and inviting. The rebellious Doherty and his rugged romanticism seem more likeable than frustrating when pinned down by less ramshackle rhythms. As a result the Babyshambles show is both exciting and extremely intriguing.