Peter Doherty, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London
Thursday 26 February 2009
What exactly does the new "r" stand for in the reformed title of Peter Doherty? In formalising his name from the casual "Pete", perhaps what the ex-Libertine desires is "respectability". But on tonight's evidence that new consonant may just as well stand for "recidivism".
After impressive supporting sets from up-and-coming indie hopefuls Ex Lovers and the preppy Vaults, the potential for Doherty to be shown up by his support acts was as acute as it ever was, but it was a challenge which, with the backing of former Babyshambles bandmates Drew McConnell and Adam Ficek, he overcame. Doherty's uncharacteristically punctual performance was musically impressive. It helped that, for every unpredictable swagger from the clearly intoxicated frontman, guest guitarist Blur's Graham Coxon was there to provide a solid foundation to new material which sees Doherty breaking musical ground. While forays into his back catalogue drew the biggest response from the crowd, it was on material such as new single "Last of the English Roses" from solo album Grace/Wastelands that the band performed at their best. Coxon's playing was so efficient and mechanical that it was a shock to see him react with surprise when, during "New Love Grows On Trees", he was nearly hit by a beer thrown from the crowd.
The calming influence of an under-utilised string section and guests including producer Stephen Street on guitar and singer Dot Allison, helped lift the performance above the low bar set by previous Doherty gigs. It was edifying to see such goodwill for an artist whose name is a byword for shambolic shows, and whose unfamiliar material stymied their attempts to sing along. When Doherty treated them to the Libertines classic "What a Waster", however, their enthusiasm overflowed, matched only by their reaction to one-song encore "Time For Heroes".
Much of the set was drawn from Grace/Wastelands, whose title indicates what Doherty is trying to achieve; taking structures with the virtuoso musicianship and reverberating production of Jeff Buckley and furnishing them with T S Eliot's images of a cold and claustrophobic capital. For perhaps the first time, it seems as if Doherty is beginning to live up to his potential; and with a solo tour to follow and his personal life out of the tabloids, the "r" may stand for "respectability" after all.
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