Dirty Pretty Things, The Zodiac, Oxford <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

You pays your money and takes your choice, so if someone shells out upwards of £70 for a ticket, they are bound to enjoy themselves. Most other people, though, were left bemused by Carl Barat's first official UK date since the demise of his former band The Libertines.

It had been a long time coming. Barat had maintained a dignified silence while his ex-bandmate Pete Doherty became trapped in a cycle of arrest, court case and post-clink gig, interrupted by the occasional record release.

Only partially explaining Barat's quiet was a tumour operation that laid him low last year, but now he was back with a new outfit, still finding their feet after low-key dates in Paris, Italy and Ireland and a secret UK gig.

The four-piece began in explosive fashion - The Libertines with added snarl, mainly channelled through Barat's barely-repressed fury. There were his short, tense guitar solos and slack-jawed drawl that reminded us of how much Razorlight's Johnny Borrell owes him.

He was joined by musicians who rampaged over his favoured electric sea shanties. Former Libertine drummer Gary Powell was as dependable as ever, with Didz Hammond, from nearly men The Cooper Temple Clause, providing bouncy basslines and Anthony Rossomondo a woozy chug on rhythm guitar. In this confused mess, all that connected them was dressing in Barat's image, boho chic with leather jackets.

Songs were delivered in such a breathless rush, it was impossible to get a grip, though there was an impression that energy had replaced craft. Highlight "Bang Bang You're Dead" was instantly irresistible, though when Barat sang with Morrissey-level disdain the words "so easily lead", Doherty immediately sprang to mind.

Signs of what the Things lacked came with a handful of Libertines numbers. "Death On The Stairs" retained a clarity and engaging characterisation missing from new material, while their take on "I Get Along" was eminently raucous.

So while the prodigal Libertine may have frittered away his talent, it turned out that it was he who carried the band's vision. Barat, meanwhile, supplied taut tunes and a pithy turn of phrase. He may regain those qualities to accompany his steely determination to succeed, though he will struggle to replace that old magic born of twisted chemistry.

Touring to 24 May (see www.dirtyprettythingsband.com)

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