Babyshambles - Northumbria Uni
Nobody with any sense or intelligence wears a trilby to a hot, sweaty, heaving gig. This however, was Babyshambles, and one could spot the poseurs from a mile away. What with the aforementioned headwear, drainpipe trousers and military jackets, it was clear that there were a few distinct groups of people at this gig. The regular music loving gig-goers, the Pete Doherty-wannabes (here come the trilbies again) and a few people who'd clearly never been to a gig in their life. Such is the Doherty effect. Inside, however, in the smokey haze beneath the dim lights, the divisions between the disparate camps began to blur.
Indeed, almost everyone at Northumbria Uni was united on one thing: The first support band were seriously poor. Truly awful in fact. General Khaki told us their name three times, (twice in the clearly orchestrated "banter", once in... erm... song form...) which isn't really surprising, given how forgettable their songs (all of which sounded the same) were. Vaguely military outfits and jagged guitar tunes, like Interpol playing Bloc Party songs... very badly. When General Khaki were finally removed from the stage, things began to get better. Of course, they couldn't have got worse, but even so, the Paddingtons show was an utter tour de force; great tunes performed fantastically, with plenty of charisma, personality and rock and roll swagger, but also attention to detail and a great degree of professionalism. There has been a great deal of buzz around the Paddingtons in recent months, and on the basis of their Newcastle show, they deserve to go a long way. From a purely musical point of view, they were undoubtedly the highlight of the night, but emotively speaking, the main event was, of course, still to come.
Prior to the show, of course, given Babyshambles' by no means spotless record, I was worried that they would even turn up, and things were looking dodgy as, maybe half an hour after the Paddingtons had left the stage, there was still no sign of Pete and his rowdy rabble. But the crowd continued to call out "We want Pete", (with the occasional cry of "we want Carl", courtesy of your bold reviewer) and sure enough, he (Doherty, not Barat) showed up eventually. And, I must say, he was in fine voice. Babyshambles aren't, and don't intend to be, as tight and organised a band as, say, the Paddingtons had been earlier in the night, but that's where their appeal lies. Call it a gimmick, but the chaos that is unavoidable in all of Pete Doherty's work from the Libertines onwards is what gives it its undeniable tenderness and beauty.
And that was evident at the Newcastle gig. Sometimes Babyshambles' songs simply don't have quality to allow such a haphazard approach to performance, and can slip into sounding like one of the many pub-rock Libertines imitators that are so rife these days. But sometimes there are moments of brilliance, the moments that allow Pete Doherty to have last chance after last chance in the music business and, seemingly, in life.
The highlights on this special night were, of course, recent top-five single Fuck Forever, delivered with glorious impetuosity, the anthemic Albion, and earlier single Killamangiro. It was the latter, the climactic moment of the show, that seemed most poignant.
I saw a lonely, frightened, ill looking young man on a stage asking me the question with both intense pain and simple fascination, "why would you pay to see me in cage?" Which is precisely what we'd all done that night. After the scrappy encore, Killamangiro still haunted me. Why had I paid to see him in a cage, and why would I gladly do so again? Indeed, why do many of us do so on an almost daily basis with our morbid fascination with this strange man? Highly entertaining gigs are two a penny nowadays, and thank God for that. But genuinely thought provoking gigs that leave you unsettled, yet shamefully euphoric? Those don't come along every day.
I'd like to think everybody who saw the Babyshambles gig at Northumbria Uni left it feeling as chastened, nay, guilty, as I did. But somehow I doubt it. Far more upsetting and troubling than any Victorian freakshow, we'll keep paying to see Pete Doherty in his cage as long as long as we're allowed. But I, for one, doubt that even Doherty knows how long that'll be.