Live Review: Pete Doherty

16 May 2011

Peter Doherty

Support: Lipstick Melodies

8th May 2011 – The Junction, Cambridge

‘What a fucking waster’ may have been the lyrics Pete Doherty opened last night’s gig at the Junction with but no longer could these lines be heard as self-reflective statements. A name which has become synonymous with drugs, debauchery, parties and prison Pete Doherty, the once king of NME’s Cool List, still appears as the dishevelled charming rogue he was nearly ten years ago but he now has the focus of a maturing artist at work. Unfortunately, once the stage lights really do go out it doesn’t take long before a conversation with Doherty reveals that the potential lyrical poet still reverts back to the rhetoric of the aggressive junky – the Hyde he’d be better off without.

Unlike his cockney sounding, tartan beret wearing warm up act, Alan Wass of the Lipstick Melodies, Doherty still has the aura of effortless, almost aimless, cool. He took to the stage, as ever in his black suit, but there was a difference in Pete: gone was the familiar trilby hat and in its place a penetrating focus for the audience to admire. From the very beginning it was clear that this was not going to be an anarchic performance for the press. Indifferently hanging a red bra on his mic stand, it was clear Peter was here for the music. He opened the night with – what have at other gigs been bitterly ignored or boredly mumbled creating a bland nostalgia – revitalised and engaging versions of Libertines classics: Can’t Stand Me Now, Music When the Lights Go Out, What Katie Did and Don’t Look Back into the Sun. This was no drunk junky mumbling and drawling through unintelligible verses. Doherty was expressive and what we heard, particularly in his more recent solo material, were the lines of a poet.

The isolated acoustic guitar focussed our attention on his lyrics and their remarkable witticism and clever playfulness of words. He played last of the English Roses with a serious but relaxed tenderness. Unfortunately, the ballet dancers that accompanied the song were even less engaged than they were last summer. They must stop with half-hearted grand-jetes which aren’t designed for such small stages and make more of an effort to adapt their choreography or at least engage with Doherty’s music. A poignant rendition of Lady Don’t Fall Backwards was delivered and again Doherty’s new found concentration as an artist was apparent, with his eyes closed his absorption with his music was palpable. Arcadie and Albium both proved to be new found favourites of Doherty’s dedicated fans and made up for the initial uncomfortable moment of expectation as the obligatory Chaz and Dave soundtrack came to an end and Mr. Doherty was still not on stage, or the moment after the second song when he wished the audience good night – luckily he stayed and even returned for the en core.

This was the high of the evening. Doherty invited onto the stage a member of the audience – Smithy. A man who he had met earlier that day and like Doherty suffers from a drug addiction. Unlike Doherty, however, Smithy’s addiction reveals the unglamorous side of drugs when they aren’t accompanied with a rock star life style and groupies but instead only a Cambridge paving slab for rough sleeping and disease. After the gig I asked Doherty if the human connection between him and this ordinary old time addict was as genuine, sincere and meaningful as it seemed. Pete didn’t understand the question and then said that Smithy just wanted to play his fucking pipe. I had been talking to Smithy and his ex-hostel worker for the majority of the evening and, as I assured Doherty, the performance meant far more to him than that. It was sad Doherty couldn’t recognise his own humane gesture, which was far more meaningful than an ego indulging duet with any big name. Doherty then reminded me that in his own words he ‘has no standards’ and what followed was the performance of a thuggish threatening junky. Perhaps this is the performance many of his fans idolise, but it is a performance that such a talented artist no longer needs to give. On stage Doherty the performer is becoming a serious musician, but he won’t realise the potential of his gift until he stops hiding behind his now expected presentation of a fucking waster.

Review & Photo – Laura Mayne