Babyshambles: Brixton Academy, London

FOR THE BENEFIT of readers in Turkmenistan, I should explain that Babyshambles is the band led by former Libertine Pete Doherty — a man whose exotic and far from private life means he required a special legal dispensation to play this show.

A crowd of 5,000 has duly turned up. On the basis of Babyshambles’s one release to date — the energetic but (unlike Doherty’s conduct) unarresting ‘Killamangiro’ — you’d be entitled to ask why.

It could be because Doherty is a poster boy for flamboyant screw-ups; because he’s the junkie squeeze of a scenester supermodel; because he’s just spent a week looking three-quarters dead on red-top front pages. And these are perfectly good reasons to attend a rock’n’roll gig. But if you ask me, the real cause is Keane.

Yup — fascinating, innocent, expansive Keane. Not my description, by the way. Not by a long chalk. That’s the “brand identity” crafted by an image consultancy Keane hired before they’d even signed a record deal. When you ponder what that says about indie rock right now, Pete Doherty’s notoriety seems not just understandable, but inevitable. If people flock to see public self-destruction rather than rote, shrink-wrapped professionalism, can you blame them?

Tonight, for once, you’re not watching an act trundle along a carefully laid set of tracks into a cosy terminus. Introduced by an archly disingenuous and no doubt sincerely flattered Mick Jones (“We’ve got this little band here, they’re going to do a rehearsal”) Doherty’s rattletrap new vehicle careers randomly downhill and fetches up in an ungainly heap of spokes.

Which is not to say Babyshambles lack contrivance. A slapstick punch up between Doherty and his guitarist has something stagy about it — or perhaps I’m just prey to the cynicism that an utterly cynical music business engenders in turn. But even if you plan for chaos, you can’t always control it. That’s what Doherty has to offer; the currently scarce sensation that something unanticipated might happen.

It’s not enough, though. Iffy, warmed-over Clash-isms and the occasional Libertines number do not a legend make. I wouldn’t normally judge unfinished work; but when it’s presented before a large paying audience, I don’t have much choice. The show-stopping crush down the front two songs in has nothing on that at the exits an hour or so later. If the mutterings of the disgruntled throng are anything to go by, Doherty is living on his capital.

© David BennunMail On Sunday, February 2005

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