Peter Doherty @ Troxy, East London, 28th March 2009
Redwhiteandblue lights like bunting and Union Jacks as towels.
Pete ‘Peter’ Doherty in three piece suit and hat and looking – older? Not quite. Confident though. Focused enough to tie a tie. Flanked by Graham Coxon, who sips Coke from a can and rips up a ‘Time For Heroes’ solo graceful and raw, giving the song the service it deserves and has never really had with Babyshambles.
Adam Ficek on drums, Drew McConnell on bass, “the hardest-drinking string section in the country” at the back. Stephen Street wearing a Native American chief’s headdress, Dot Allison on ‘Sheepskin Tearaway’, someone taking care of organ (nice) and melodica (wrong), Mik Whitnall for a split second, Wolfman and Lee Mavers of the La’s, who does a pre-encore of ‘There She Goes’ but seems otherwise surplus to requirements in this village fete-cum-variety show-cum Pete Doherty: This Is Your Life flypast.
Old stuff: Pete opens with ‘Music When The Lights Go Out’. There’s a middle acoustic section with ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’, ‘The Good Old Days’, ‘For Lovers’. He’s remembered how to play guitar. ‘Time For Heroes’ and ‘Fuck Forever’ are the final, bruising encore.
Some of the new songs work well with Stephen Street’s production/arrangements, like the village band Chas’n’Dave type numbers which are twee but done with enough conviction to be reasonably successful. But other new efforts feel weighed down, too decorated. When Street produced Morrissey, he created a solid support for an expansive, resonant voice. But Pete’s is fragile and mercurial, punctuated with shrieking, whispering and mumbling. His lyrics are just as vital as Morrissey’s, but it’s always been hard to hear Pete when he’s singing live and his voice (and words) are squeezed out now by melodica, strings and the heavy Babyshambles bass that used to be necessary to keep the whole thing on the rails and now just feels impolite. Even Coxon’s sexy guitar squall feels a mite unnecessary, though some of us get perverse pleasure out of what he does to his Tele.
Sonic Youth said to Kill Your Idols but in the end your stomach still tightens for ‘Music When The Lights Go Out’ as you remember how Pete’s words cut through the sad small town life of yours years ago, offering a taste of love and meaning and shared or imaginary-shared moments with an English thorn in your side.
But now of course there are the Lads, the Shambles army, the polo-shirted, arms-round-shoulders terrace singalong Lads who love Pete – how? Why? (And is the new additional ‘r’ an attempt to shrug off the advances of the Lads and their beery man-love?) And more: there are their ironed-hair girlfriends and the forty-something-till-I-die brigade; and the selfish cunt inside you who wants Peter and his words all to yourself is angry and can’t believe all these people, these people who talk through songs and go back-forth to the bar, laughing in your ear, you can’t believe all these people could possibly feel all that you feel/t hearing “alarm bells ring when you say your heart still sings when you’re with me/ Oh please forgive me…”
But the Lads are here, and so we move on, and the idol is floated out on a pyre and you’re left with a new album of old songs, embellished like a creased old tart dripping in gold baubles picked up through the years, painted over but not so you can’t still see old beauty through the cracks. And it’s okay, because at home in a bottom drawer there’s a handful of scratched-up CD-Rs of those sessions where Pete + guitar + coughs + “Got me nuts?” = EQUALLED everything, once.