‘I heard it said you had come back from the dead……

March 20, 2009 at 1:34 pm (Gigs) (, , , , )

…and you were playing so fine, scooping up the soul of the wine’

Peter Doherty, Brighton Dome, 19/03/09


It’s fair to say that there is still an element of uncertainty surrounding Peter Doherty.

While it would appear that 2009 may finally be the year in which he finally gains some semblance of control over his career, addictions, and life in general, we have all been here too many times before. There have been too many broken promises, squandered opportunities, no shows and downright lies from the wayward minstrel since The Libertines imploded in 2004 for even his most ardent fans to take any suggestions of a ‘new, cleaned up Pete finally ready to fulfil his promise’ with a fistful of salt.

So there is still a slight air of trepidation surrounding the Dome tonight, it may just be the relative majesty of the building confusing some very drunk minds, but the crowd milling at the bar look slightly nervous and, truth be told a little lost. Scenesters clad in Libs era military jackets rub shoulders uneasily with balding beer bellied dads, Hacket shirted lads, old school skins and, most alarmingly, a number of people wearing shellsuits, in what one can only hope is a gesture of irony.

'Love you Pete!'

'Love you Pete!'

Although it would be nice to think that such diverse clientele is symptomatic of Doherty’s ability to bring people together in a live environment, it is probably more indicative of the fact that for many, his career is now little more than a soap opera. It seems likely that many of tonight’s crowd have a first experience of the man through a tabloid headline involving some arrangement of the words ‘Smack’, ‘Kate’, ‘Insanity’, ‘Blackmail’, ‘Squalor’ and ‘Jail’, and are simply here to see the fireworks go off.

So we take our seats in the Dome’s plush balcony shortly before 9:30 when Doherty is meant to take to the stage, and anticipate a lengthy wait.

I’ve barely had time to point out some of the Dome’s more interesting archaeological features to my associate when the lights darken, the music stops, and Peter Doherty strolls confidently onstage lit from beneath by a sea of blue lit mobile phones. He looks in good shape. No longer quite so drawn out pallid and wide eyed, he gives a jovial wave to the audience, picks up a guitar, and launches into a seamless ‘Music When the Lights Go Out’ to a crowd now bathed in a kind of stunned rapture. From here a band slowly builds starting with the addition of Babyshambles drummer Adam Fieck for a Freewheelin’ Dylan-esq jaunt through the ramshackle ‘Arcady’, before the rest of his band, accompanied by a string section and a melodica emerge for new single ‘Last of the English Roses’.

The musicianship is tight, and though Doherty’s voice occasionally gets slightly lost when everyone is playing full bore, most of the time, such as a beautifully realised ‘1939 Returning’, the lush strings imbue the music with an air of grace and cohesion so often missing from Doherty’s shows. The decision to air large parts of the new album, technically only released a few days ago, from the start of the gig and at the expense of older fan favourites is a bold move.

It’s a move that works due to the strength of the songs, and the finesse with which Doherty is able to perform them with relatively little practice. ‘A Little Death Around the Eyes’ comes across as the theme song for a Bond movie sadly never to be made and featuring our hero as a doomed romantic, lost and heavily medicated somewhere in Algeria, while ‘Salome’ tips its hat to Syd Barrett before branching out into a biblically dramatic close. Doherty then goes electric for a brilliantly unexpected 60’s rock take on ‘Through the Looking Glass’ which breathes new life into the well known rarity in a manner reminiscent of Dylan’s ‘Never Ending Tour’ with its continued reinterpretation of well loved classics.

By this time the view of the massed hordes in the standing area is a little too tempting to ignore, and, in the interests of journalistic diligence, we head downstairs to try and talk our way in. After an initially unsuccessful attempt, it transpires that a couple are leaving never to return, on the basis that Doherty is ‘fucking awful’, which rather begs the question of what exactly it was that they were expecting to see. Still, never ones to look a gift horse in the mouth, even when it comes in the guise of idiocy, we accept their tickets, and bounce down the steps into the sweaty masses just in time for an incendiary ‘Fuck Forever’, followed by a joyous ‘Baddies Boogie’. The fans at the front are in a state of swaying delirium, and with the crowd baying the ‘lousy life’ refrain back to him with menace, Doherty looks to have cracked it.

Even a full glass of water exploding onto his acoustic guitar during a tender ‘Lady Don’t Fall Backwards’ from some cretin at the front can’t deter him. A knowing ‘Hey, I’m trying to be professional here’ and mock angry waving of guitar at the first few rows is all the reaction this engenders before Doherty smoothly re-takes his seat and slips effortlessly back into the song’s chorus. This new more confident and polished rendering of his work is not only a welcome relief from the shambolic chaos of earlier gigs, whose notoriety threatened to overshadow the music into permanent darkness, but crucially, it does not detract from the air of unpredictability and charisma that made Doherty such a compelling performer in the first place.

He will never be the smoothest performer, and his lengthy extinguishing of a cigarette thrown on-stage (which mainly consists of smoking it down to the bone) suggests that he is still very much a law unto himself. However as a great man once said, ‘to live outside the law, you must be honest’, and it would seem that Doherty’s new found determination to let his songs stand for themselves without any of the attending distractions is his way of doing so. It’s only a start, and Peter Doherty may have seen more false dawns than most, but on this evidence it would appear that he may finally be ready to come out from the shadows for good.

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