Carl Barât, Koko, London
Thursday 07 April 2011
Carl Barât's talent has often been superseded by his fame. His combustible relationship with the ever-newsworthy Pete Doherty is well-documented, and rumours continue to swirl about a possible Libertines reunion. Yet in the midst of the headlines, Barât has formed one half of the last decade's most memorable songwriting partnerships and fronted two of its more popular indie bands. Now, standing centre stage at Koko, the limelight shines solely on him, but what's unclear is how happy he is to embrace it alone.
Barât's predilection for the old school is instantly evident: he's surrounded by a 10-strong band, including a small brass section and a double bass, and channeling his inner James Dean with windswept hair and a leather jacket. However, the influence of the 1950s extends further than the surface; the band storm through throwback heartbreak tracks like "Je Regrette, Je Regrette" and "So Long, My Lover" with relish and aplomb.
Unsurprisingly, it's still the old favourites which get the biggest reaction from the crowd – The Libertines' unassailably brilliant "Don't Look Back into the Sun" nearly lifts the roof off Camden's esteemed venue. Were Barât to ignore his back-catalogue, he'd be criticised for not crowd-pleasing, but were he to play too much of it, he'd be accused of not having enough new material: it's a difficult balance, but one which Barât's set strikes well.
Yet the size of the band, as well as several cameos from Dirty Pretty Thing Didz Hammond, makes you wonder if Barât is more comfortable as part of a group than as a solo act. When he rips into the solo of "Bang Bang You're Dead" his skill as a lead guitarist is evident, but when he's asked to be a lone frontman he seems slightly less comfortable, despite his impressively emotive vocals.
Overall, Barât manages to remind us of his brilliance and his limitations all at once, producing a show which is heavy on endeavour but somewhat lighter on impact.
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