Pete Doherty, Barfly, London
The return of prodigal Pete
Tuesday 10 August 2004
With a roar that was as much triumphant as relieved, the audience greeted the ex-Libertine more as homecoming hero than a prodigal son. After two London no-shows, Pete Doherty finally made the stage.
Last week's thunderstorms were nothing compared to the tempests that have battered the singer that was, and could be again, half of one of rock's most compelling relationships, with writing partner Carl Barat.
Doherty's being caught driving without a licence, and in possession of a flick knife a couple of months ago was the final straw for the band. Having already failed to heed their warning to shake off his drug habit, the rest of the Libertines ejected Doherty until he had fully recovered.
His own idea of rehabilitation, though, was a series of chaotic solo dates. Doherty was due to play this same venue last Monday, but stormed out at 11pm when a bouncer refused to admit his guitar technician. The next evening, he again failed to show in support of Wolfman, the writer with whom he collaborated on the biggest hit for a Libertine to date, the languorous "For Lovers".
Despite his repeated non- appearances, fans turned out in force to the upstairs room of a pub in Camden, with tickets changing hands online for around £50. Doherty forced his way through the mob that wanted to touch him in the manner of tweenies assaulting Busted. Despite his well-publicised problems, he still cut a dash in blue suit and matching polo shirt, a trilby perched precariously on the back of his head. His face, though, told a different story. The only colour was the bags under his eyes.
Throughout all of his problems, Doherty has argued that his only true addiction is to performance. Band mates dispute this, but with acoustic guitar in hand he commanded attention for just over an hour. The west London troubadour oozed charm from every pore, with a laid-back manner that made the evening more of a free-form happening than a gig.
His fluid guitar style made for some ropy attempts at solos, while the voice faltered on slower numbers, though he always pulled himself together for more forceful songs. Performing in front of a dedicated crowd, Doherty avoided obvious numbers from The Libertines' debut album, Up the Bracket. Instead, he drew from their forthcoming follow-up, to show how he and Barat had focused their writing skills on catchy pop tunes such as "Don't Be Shy" and "Ha Ha Wall".
Rarer Libertines numbers and his own songs proved just as strong, while Doherty made the occasional cover version his own. You had to double-take when you realised that the "One Last Love Song" that he dedicated to Barat was a Beautiful South song. Doherty paused to read a poem written for him by one of the band's younger fans, a Libertinie. The crowd hushed to hear a reasonable sixth-form effort that had Doherty as a "tin man" and wearing "donkey's ears".
Doherty was, on occasion, unfocused, drifting from the microphone stand even on new songs. You wondered how much he missed his on-stage foil. Later on, he called up one of the audience to play harmonica. He was clearly no substitute for Barat, something that Doherty acknowledged as he shoulder-charged the interloper from the mic. There were also signs of paranoia as Doherty attempted to wrench as perfect a sound as possible from the PA. "Are you doing this on purpose?" he demanded of the venue's sound man, staring at him in an accusing fashion.
For the anthemic "Time for Heroes", with its vision of stylish kids at riots, fans piled on stage. Doherty sang from the floor before he escaped through a side exit, swapping his shirt for a fan's football top in the colours of his beloved Queens Park Rangers.
Meanwhile, the rest of the audience left satisfied to have seen their own hero in such a small venue. With Barat and Doherty together, though, The Libertines would be much more compelling. The fans' adulation only widens the rift between him and his fellow visionaries.
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