If day one here at the Oya Festival was the Turbonegro Extravaganza, day two was the Pete Libertine Experience ("Fuck the Libertines," says Pete).
After wandering onto the festival site to the sounds of Thurston Moore and Jim O'Rourke gettin distorto-weird under the name Diskaholics Anonymous, we headed for the main stage, where Babyshambles was due to play at 5:20pm. When we arrived everything seemed in order, if a little calm. The roadies were setting up the stage, tuning guitars, getting the drums in place and so on and so forth. It kinna seemed like the band might just walk up the ramp at any moment and play to the waiting crowd and that would be that. But then we ran into our man Claes Olsen who organizes the festival and he politely informed us that two of ye olde Shambles had been delayed at the airport because of the strikes at Heathrow. The other two Shambles were on site. There was no point in asking which group Peter was a part of. Claes then rescheduled the band to perform last on the middle stage, and the weird dude who enthusiastically announces each band cracked jokes over the microphone and told everyone what was going on. Nobody seemed surprised. The crowd wandered away.
After catching up with DFA 1979's infamously brutal live show and even catching them sitting around with a casual, pre-show Annie, we made our way over to the small stage for the much talked about Magic Numbers. Claes had already told us that he saw the band at the FADER party at SXSW and booked them for Oya on the spot. The Friday lineup was a little thinner than Thursday's and about three quarters of the crowd had stacked up to watch the Magic Numbers play the festival's smallest stage. It was a stroke of quirky scheduling luck for the UK band—there were people standing knee deep in the water, people squashed up against the fence that separates the VIP section and people just sitting at everyone else's knee level on the beach (we use the term "beach" very loosely) as the Numbers loped through its set of lovely guitar pop juelz. The band keeps it very simple—the songs seem like songs that anyone could write, it's just that the Numbers are the ones that went ahead and wrote them. They even have a knack for making lines like "I don't want to lose your love/ But I don't want to choose just one" sound, well, a little melancholy, but also very sweet and understandable. You almost feel good because there's so many options! Love the one you're with, or don't! Choices galore! Saul Williams, another act that Olsen discovered at the FADER post at South-By, followed the Numbers on the Vika stage.
As we watched Annie drift and lilt through her set of bubbly electro pop hits (they're all hits) from a ledge at the side of the stage about six feet above the crowd, we talked about Pete Doherty in anticipation of the Babyshambles show that night on the same stage. Of all the ridiculous, propped-up tents in the rolling Pete Doherty Circus, perhaps the most absurd is the "lunatic genius" camp. As best we can recall, nobody was calling the pre-crack-and-brown Pete a genius, although everyone who knows what they're talking about was calling Pete and the Libertines damn fucking good, us included. The worst part about the "lunatic genius" thing though is that it necessarily carries with it a condescending attitude of "wasted talent", pity and shame-on-you. "What a waster, you pissed it all up the wall," Carl and Pete once sang. But not only does the "what a pity" take imply that your everyday crackhead is less of a pity, it also implies that Pete owes something to his own talents, as though they're not his to do with as he pleases. Peter Doherty doesn't owe anything to himself or to his fans - effort, output, productivity, making the most of your talents, all of those things are a choice, not an obligation. What might be better and certainly healthier for Peter and what he has to do are very different. If you pay $15.99 for Libertines CD, you paid for the packaging and the music on it, not for six more great albums to come. If you pay $12 for a Babyshambles ticket, then damn right Pete should show up and perform. What you don't deserve though, is a singing muppet on a string who does coke and maybe some horse because you like the strung out look and the onstage stumbling, but who doesn't do so much of either that he can't dance when you're in the mood to fiddle with his strings.
As we talked through this stuff, Annie stepped gingerly around the stage in her green dress and stiletto heels, singing away, then all of the sudden - WHOOSH - out of nowhere, Peter walked right in front of us, jumped quickly off the ledge and slid into the middle of the crowd, disappearing as he adjusted the hat on his head and jammed a cigarette into his mouth. Speak of the devil and he shall appear.
After checking out Satyricon - a very good, heavy and orchestral metal band with full makeup, head-banging and Satanic references that had the entire crowd of the main stage pumping its fist in unison - we caught the first few songs of Sonic Youth (and the adorable Sonic Youths, who danced at the side of the stage and tried to wave at their parents between songs) and eventually headed back to the middle stage to catch the end of Norwegian hip-hop group the Paperboys.
Paperboys use a Powerbook for their basslines, two percussionists sharing a full latin percussion setup, and one drummer on a full drum kit. It's very old school - basically all breaks all the time - and not bad at all. They got the crowd as live as anyone, especially the crop of doll-faced 16 year-old blond girls dancing up front. Nothing sounds as good as even a little mediocre hip-hop after three straight days of guitars.
Towards the end of the set, Babyshambles appeared backstage and we struck up a conversation with Patrick, the tall and gaunt guitarist. Peter arrived eventually. As it turns out, it wasn't the British Airways strike that had held Peter and Patrick up in London, but you'll probably be able to find more on that elsewhere, at some point. We chatted with the band some more as they got into their various pre-show rituals, and then the stage manager told us no pictures. We asked each member of the band if they minded if we took some shots and none did - "Do what you want, mate!" said Pete, which seems to be his general way of going about things until an authority of some sort fucks it up. We decided to check with the band's road manager so there wouldn't be any problems, but the man with the toughest job in show business told us emphatically and repeatedly, "Sorry mate sorry mate, no pictures no pictures - first three songs, in the photo pit, no flash." Thems the breaks.
The band took the stage to huge applause, barreling through their skronking, post-Clash upstroke verses that roll into double time bridges. Peter drank from a warm bottle of gin and generally looked like a man dispossessed, swinging the mic around, clapping it, banging it into the cymbals - it's not terribly clear how he remembers the lyrics or changes, but just when you think he's gonna collapse or that his mind has shut down completely, he whirls back around to the crowd, gets the mic more or less up near his mouth and throws himself into the next verse. He also threw the bottle of gin to someone in the crowd, then - OY! - yelled at the bouncer that went in after it, saying, "OY! That's a present!" The young crowd in the front row was nervously loving it - Pete looked like a darling mess vein model junkie on the verge and was, but the songs still sounded fucking great. "Don't look back into the motherfuckin sun," he sang. "That's the end... that's the end..."
About three songs into the set, three paramedics arrived to standby just - you know - just in case. As the fifth song of the set or so came to a final crash, Pete suddenly whirled around and BLAAAAAGH, vomited up a yellow green splatter of chunk and bile, a huge, stinking mess right in the middle of the stage. As a Babyshambles crew member curled the vomit up in a towel, Pete wiped his mouth once, looked at the crowd and said "Hey! I'm alright!", wiped his mouth again and said, "We're going to slow it down now, for the vomit" and went into the next number. Peter may have been kinna alright, relatively speaking, but the crowd no longer was. The look in their young eyes no longer reflected the Darling Mess but now something more along the lines of the Darling Death. Not in spite of the greatness of the music but because of the greatness of the music, watching Peter onstage is supremely unsettling. The look, the movements, the commentary, the vomit, the songs - they all work together to form a knot of paranoid guilt shame fear self-loathing question marks in your stomach. If the music was in as bad a shape now as Pete is, it would just be a freak show. But the music is great, and it's definitely a freak show, but it pulls you in so much that you feel like part of the act, not the audience.
And the audience is, ultimately, part of the act. As we walked with the band offstage towards the buggy that runs them back to their dressing room, two shirtless fans, boys about 16 or so, mashed themselves up against the chain link fence yelling "Oh my God Pete! Oh my God Pete! We love you Pete!" "I love you too," Pete said back gingerly as a roadie shined a flashlight on the kids. "I love the Libertines! Babyshambles!" called the kid. "Fuck the Libertines" responded Pete. The band continued along the path and around the corner out of site of the kids. "Let us bugger you Pete," somebody in the band joked. The band loaded into the buggy, then all of the sudden the two kids came running up, yelling, "Pete, Pete, Libertines are the best band ever! Babyshambles second!" One of the kids was still muttering "Pete" when he stuck his head in the buggy. There was a smacking sound, some laughing, and the killed pulled his head out, the door shut, and the buggy drove off. "Oh my God!" said the kid. "Oh my God!"