Live Review

Peter Doherty, Shepherds Bush Empire

There is always a well-known risk involved with going to a Peter Doherty live show…

‘Self-destructive’, ‘shambolic’, ‘dangerous’ and ‘druggie’ – all words that the press has at one point used to describe Peter Doherty. But as he kicks off his tour in support of solo album ‘Grace/Wastelands’, DIY finds out whether indie’s modern-day minstrel has managed to kick old habits and turn over a new leaf as a live performer.

There is always a well-known risk involved with going to a Peter Doherty live show – what state he will be in and what time he will bumble on, that is if he even bothers to turn up. So, imagine the relief when fans enter the O2 Shepherds Bush Empire at 9.30pm sharp to find the lanky fellow, suited and booted and already strumming the opening chords to The Libertines’ ‘Music When The Lights Go Out’. His familiar voice resonates in a controlled, clear and coherent manner; a far cry from the lazy mumble that folk may have become accustomed to. Instead, every lyric is delivered with poise and passion, and his pining sensibility charms the crowd into early singsong.

Moving on from a landmark in Libertines past was never going to be an easy task, but Doherty’s masterstroke is bringing to the podium an ensemble cast of familiar faces as Graham Coxon resumes his guitarist role on ‘Grace/Wastelands’, with Babyshambles’ Drew McConnell and Adam Ficek taking on bass and drum duties. A three-piece string section completes the line-up, lacing a number of the new songs with a sweeping cinematic feel, similar to what was so excellently executed on The Last Shadow Puppets’ debut.

Lead single, the harmonica-laden ‘Last of the English Roses’ turns out to be one of the set’s cheeriest moments, with a more brooding mood brewing on numbers like ‘Salome’ in which the strings intensified, providing a haunting accompaniment to the bleak imagery of the ‘head of John the Baptist on a plate’. ‘Palace of Bone’, whilst also lyrically dark, instead lightly rattles along as a reminder of Peter’s love of The Coral. His sneers of ‘Snakey Road’ and deep-throated growl within the country shuffle are quite Johnny Cash, the stage also remarkably resembles a scene from Folsom Prison, with a rockabilly double bass even perched at the forefront. One look down at the Empire and you are transported back to its days as a musical hall; with Peter putting on a variety performance – flitting from being the modern day George Formby to a rockier pose for ‘Through the Looking Glass’, which metamorphoses into electric form since its origins on The Libertines’ ‘French sessions’.

The interlude sees Doherty alone in the spotlight again, tearing through a hard acoustic strum of ‘What a Waster’ much to the audience’s delight, before dropping a few rarities, including the five year old Libertines Bside to ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’, ‘Never Never’. A risky move for most artists, but the shudders of its verses from the stands indicated that the devotees were in the house and loving every minute.

The full band rejoins Doherty for a final time with the introduction of album producer Stephen Street and Dot Allison, who adds her lush, loungey coos onto sweet little love song ‘Sheepskin Tearaway’ – a theme that is sustained on new tracks like ‘New Love Grows On Trees’ and ‘Broken Love Song’ before another spectacular twist. Trying his hand at scatting, the upshot of his fondness of Ella Fitzgerald, on ‘Sweet By and By’ Doherty’s playful side is on display. The honky-tonk piano jangle, for example, sounds like it has been pooled from Queen’s ‘A Night At The Opera’ and the breezy melody openly toys with the hook from ‘Rockin Around The Christmas Tree’. The renewed pace segues nicely into the evening’s swansong - the beautifully-executed ‘Albion’ bringing down tears, but rousing the audience into fanatically chipping in their hometown to the chorus. The one-song encore is the show stealing burst of ‘Time For Heroes’. But like a fantastic romp with a scally that immediately takes off, its position as set closer is both thrilling and an abrupt comedown, leaving fans in an unsympathetic mess on the floor.

On the whole, though, Peter Doherty’s NME Awards showcase is a revelation – one that proves that behind those doe eyes is a genuine talent and a frontman whose strong points tonight are everything he fell short of on those early Babyshambles tours. With chat at an unusual minimum, his efforts to pull as many songs and genres as he could from his pork-pie hat were intriguing, but also created a mood as jumbled as you would expect from a Libertine. And there were always the songs he could have done! A small price to pay perhaps for the wider picture – showing that the past is on the backburner as Peter’s new music focus finds the limelight. Back from the dead, and back on form, Doherty’s ship Albion is well and truly back on course.

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