Even the most casual reader of Consequence of Sound is likely aware of my views toward Pete Doherty. I like him. Alright, I’ll be honest, I’m infatuated by him. I wouldn’t go as far as calling it a guilty pleasure – since after all, the former Libertines, now Babyshambles frontman is still very much relevant, and accepted, in the music world. Lets just say, I have a hard time finding much I don’t like in Doherty’s discography.
Sure, there are many things wrong with Doherty. After all, he’s squandered most of his talents and potentials away, choosing to take the rock ‘n roll lifestyle too literally, lacking the judgment and clarity to ever reach reach that echelon of greatness so many of us thought was a sure shot when he first graced our presence back in 2002.
Yet despite his immaturity and numerous other noteworthy problems, Doherty remains one of the most talented musicians around. He offers the total package – blending the intelligence of The Smiths, spunk of Strummer, and infectiousness of The Strokes to create some of the most compelling and overwhelming music heard in recent years. As a result, the 29-year-old Northumberland native has been both emulated and attacked, envied and criticized, leaving critics scratching their heads and fans clamoring for more. He’s our best example of a “misunderstood rock star,” someone we both love to hate and hate to love.
Unfortunately, neither I, nor any American for that matter, will be able to experience this greatness up-close and personal. At least, not anytime soon. Thanks to Doherty’s numerous police altercations, the chance of the frontman bringing Babyshambles to the United States for a full-fledged tour is about as likely as a Dave Grohl fronted, Nirvana reunion.
Since I don’t have the money to travel to see Doherty, nor the time to start a nationwide movement urging for the return of his visa, up until now, my only option of experiencing a live performance had been through snippets of youtube clips and raw bootleg mp3s.
However, this past Tuesday, Doherty delivered to the U.S. the closest thing to a concert that any of us will probably ever get – a live album! Recorded during the band’s show at U.K.’s Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre this past winter, Oh What a Lovely Tour offers our first recorded and mastered sounds of Doherty and Babyshambles live in concert.
Entering the stage to a chorus of cheers and applause, the same familiar strums that opened the band’s most recent album, Shotter’s Nation, begin to ring out. Doherty, sounding healthy and in control, soon enters with the first verse of “Carry On Up The Morning”. It’s a picture perfect representation of Babyshambles on their game – tight in sound, full of passion, a band offering the same jaw dropping attributes that the Libertines did just a few short years ago.
It’s Doherty in full glory – the superstar, the man who surely has captured the attention and sights of each and everyone of those in attendace during that late December night. Yet he’s also pleasant, graceful, and sweet, exhibiting the same glee and enthusiasm that fills each fan in the arena.
But as perfect as the 80-minute set sounds, it is also raw and unfiltered. As Doherty provides his first words of chit-chat to his dearing fans, the sounds of wear and tear from years of abuse and that often times, oh so unpleasant rock ‘n roll life becomes evident. “I never thought we’d make it,” Doherty chirps out as the final chords of “Delivery” dissipate, only then to mutter, “but here we are”. As emotionless and unimportant as those words sound, they’re equally ironic.
No one knew for sure that night if the frontman would once again fall victim to his uncontrollable habits, leaving them waiting for a show that never was to be. In reality, Doherty didn’t even know. It’s a reality that no mastering and editing can correct, something present throughout the set, found every so often in the playful tuning and sing-a-long renditions of “Build Me Up Buttercup”. He realizes the perception, understands the truth, and in the end, can only offer his presence and his music as a remedy.
It just so happens that night however, whether because of the recordings, soberness, or maybe he was just having a good day, Doherty’s remedy, at least for a time, makes us forget. “Beg, Steal, and Steal” offers reminders of the band’s ability to bring anyone to their feet, while innocence and sincerity are conveyed in “Unbiotitled” and “Sedative”.
Yet it’s not until Doherty flawlessly transitions into an acoustic rendition of “The Good Old Days” are we finally reminded of the musician’s true genius. As perfect as each and everyone of those Doherty/BarÃ¢t produced ballads was, Dorthey’s work under Babyshambles may be better. The lyrics, the musicality, the charisma – it’s all there, as much alive as it was the first time we heard our first Libertines material.
The captivating, yet ferocious chords of “Pipedown” soon overtakes our ears, followed by “Killamangiro” in all its indie-loving perfection. The night then comes to a close as it should, as we all knew, as I would imagine. “Fuck Forever”, Doherty’s masterpiece, his crowning achievement in a collection of gems, fills the arena. Accompanied by fans giving their best vocal impressions of the guitar-heavy melody, Doherty leaves us with one last taste of his talents, of his appeals, of what could have been, and what still could be.
Doherty is our modern day dramatic tragedy. Only this story isn’t completely over.