The prospect of seeing Pete Doherty perform in 2013 is a strange one. He symbolises a decade passed, a genre now shunned by the mainstream, yet remains living life precariously as ever; armed with a collection of songs that define a generation.
Free from the chains of a ramshackle Babyshambles tour in support of their latest LP, the intimate crowd at Brixton Jamm find the Libertines man in relatively sober, spontaneous and belligerently fantastic form.
When Pete swoops on stage in a trademark trench coat and sailor hat, cigarette burning bright, the clamour for a piece of bad boy infamy continues undiminished: girls fawn over him, Dalston boys want to be him – in this crowd at least. Still, for all the familiarity, the face is weathered, and noticeably heavier.
Opener ‘Time For Heroes’ reflects this: it sets the room abuzz, but the delivery isn’t as punkishly brash as a decade ago. Solo number ‘Arcady’ mellows the tone further, whilst ‘The Good Old Days’ feels more wistful with every passing year. When Pete asks, “Who knows Biffy Clyro?” the muted response speaks volumes. No, it’s not 2006 anymore. Reacting, he suddenly bursts into life, strumming ‘You Talk’ to deafening cheers. A ripple of relief spreads at the adrenaline shot, with the violin of Micki interwoven with Pete’s guitar work.
Amongst the screams and cheers, Pete grabs one of the many drinks laid on a speaker behind him and downs it in one. ‘Beg, Steal Or Borrow’ impatiently follows, interrupted when a trilby is thrown on stage. Pete tries to flick it up with his foot but fails, breaking his guitar strap in the process. The almighty crash leads to a simple shoulder shrug; sweating, drink stained, things kick on.
The moment that transforms the night is revealing. After a raucous rendition of ‘The Boy Looked At Johnny’, a bottle’s thrown. “F*cking hell, it’s not that bad… been a long time,” he says. And suddenly Doherty’s flying at the man, guitar held high, eyes wild. Frustration? Battered pride? It’s all there. The crowd pulls him back. Nihilistically, he announces ‘What A Waster’ as the last song of the night. But doesn’t leave. The gig becomes about proving himself – he stays for a further three hours and five goodbyes, giving everything.
This is the Doherty myth played out in microcosm; free spirited, alluring. Girls fly on stage for a kiss; he shares gifts, cigarettes, drinks, and even hats with the crowd. He stops spontaneously to sign anything: bags, jeans, skin. With crowd members bouncing off one another, the energy is palpable. “If you’re here for ‘F*ck Forever’, wait in the bar and come back in an hour,” he says to a roar.
The crowd get everything, from Libertines B-side ‘Never, Never’, to ‘Back From The Dead’. Eventually he asks for requests and pandemonium ensues – but from it all emerges a delicately sung ‘My Darling Clementine’ and ‘Merry-Go-Round’.
Security men ready the exit doors, but Pete isn’t stopping. He does sing for the final 15 minutes, but only the crowd can be heard, belting out ‘Albion’, ‘Don’t Look Back Into The Sun’ and ‘What Katie Did’. ‘F*ck Forever’ gets its outing, during which Pete literally pulls a trilby-wearing kid from the crowd, steals his hat and does an Irish jig over a violin solo.
Hat back on, and identity found, he launches into the true final song of the night, ‘Nothing Comes To Nothing’. He’s certainly something tonight. A f*cking waster maybe, but a precious one at that.
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Words and photos: Alex Taylor