Uncut Editor's Diary
Babyshambles, again. . .
We arrive what we think is early at Wembley Arena on Tuesday night for Babyshambles’ biggest headline show of their career, but are anyway still too late to see opening act Joe Lean And The Jing Jang Jong, who are ending their set with a petulant burst of feedback when we get there.
The first thing we wonder, picking our seats at random, is where everyone else is. At least a third of Wembley’s tiered seating is funereally covered with black drapes, I’d have to shout to be heard by the people sitting nearest us, who are about half a mile away, and you could drive a couple of buses at this stage around the sparsely populated arena floor, without much danger of hitting anyone even if you were drunk and blindfolded at the wheel.
In the 20 minutes that follow a noisily rousing turn from Dizzee Rascal, however, Wembley starts, encouragingly, to fill up quite handsomely – all the available seating is now taken, although everyone seems too excited to actually sit, and there’s a suitably heaving crowd below us that now almost fills the standing area, who are cheering now as the houselights go down, the crackly theme to Hancock’s Half Hour comes over the PA and Babyshambles make a punctual appearance.
Much has been made on the dates so far on this tour of their new-found professionalism – turning up on time, playing versions of their songs that everyone can recognise, a general absence of on-stage chaos. The truth is, they’ve been this together for ages, it just took Shotter’s Nation to bring the fact home to people for whom they will more often be synonymous with wholly wayward behaviour and shows that have been more notable in the public perception for their musical incompetence, a reputation I’d happily contest.
I don’t in this context want to seem contrary, but there are times tonight when the band seem so absolutely intent on living down that parlous reputation, their concentration so intent on making sure that everything they play is as spot-on as possible that it early on seems in danger of sucking the life out of their performance. I mean, it’s grand to hear the great songs from Shotter’s played with such fidelity – but if I’d just wanted to hear the album played perfectly, I could have sat in a bus shelter with it on my iPod.
Frankly, there are moments when a lot more spit and a great deal less polish would have made the evening more exciting – and seeing Pete, largely just standing there, pasty-faced, in figure-hugging black top and trousers, flanked by the similarly static Mick Whitnall and Drew McConnell, I do yearn for the more bonkers frolics of yore – some element of rowdy recklessness that’s missing here.
The first 12 songs they play are from either Shotter’s Nation or The Blinding EP that preceded it, and for many reasons I am not sure at this point that the evening will be remembered for much more than the band’s welcome but not exactly thrilling competence. I have in other words just about given up on any recognisable element of the haphazard magic longstanding fans have always loved when, lo and, yes, behold, things start to loosen up with a solo version by Pete of The Libertines “Music When The Lights Go Out”, which introduces a short acoustic set that also includes a lovely “Lost Art of Murder”, “There She Goes” and “Albion”, with added keyboards.
It’s been the recent case that versions by this line-up of Down In Albion classics “Pipedown” and “Fuck Forever” have struggled to live up to their earlier incarnations, Mick strangely struggling to replicate the feral beauty of Patrick Walden’s original guitar parts. Tonight, though, he’s on fire on these numbers and doing what he should have done before, which is make them his own.
And so the last four incredible numbers – “Pipedown”, a terrific “Killamangiro”, “Back From the Dead” and the closing roar of “Fuck Forever” are ecstatically played and even more ecstatically received by a crowd that is by now fairly besides itself, and happy to join Pete in a chorus during “Fuck Forever” of “Happy Birthday”, dedicated to his sister Emily.
Brilliant, then, in the end.
Babyshambles set list
London Wembley Arena
November November 27 2007
Carry On Up The Morning
Beg, Steal or Borrow
Side Of the Road
Music When The Lights Go Out
Lost Art Of Murder
There She Goes
Back From The Dead