First Night: The Libertines, The Forum, Kentish Town, London
Doherty's old boys back in town
Thursday 26 August 2010
When the Libertines announced in a Highgate pub back in March that they were reforming for the Reading and Leeds festivals, it is fair to say that the news was not greeted with universal excitement. For all those who idolised the quartet (who split up in 2004 in rather acrimonious circumstances), there were also many who saw the group as being over-hyped and over-rated.
In all honesty, there may be few who would consider either their 2002 debut Up the Bracket or 2004's self-titled follow-up as true classics, but what was undeniable was that when the Libertines got it right, especially live, the claims of those who called them the most exciting British band of their generation did not look all that outlandish. And after they called it a day, it was hard not to think that if Pete Doherty and Carl Barât had just been able to keep it together, they could have gone on to greater things.
They certainly haven't been forgotten in the intervening years, which can largely be put down to the tabloid-friendly antics of Doherty, most notably his former relationship with Kate Moss. Despite having their moments, the numerous musical projects that followed from the band's members (the most notable of which being Doherty's Babyshambles and Barât's Dirty Pretty Things, which also featured drummer Gary Powell) all failed to escape the shadow of the Libertines.
So there is definitely a feeling of unfinished business being addressed with this warm-up show before the weekend's festival appearances, and in a poignant start, just before they walk out onto the stage, screens either side show old pictures of the band as the PA plays Vera Lynn's "We'll Meet Again" and the crowd sings along. As they dive straight into "Horrowshow", any worries about how they sound are dismissed, and although you could never call the Libertines a tight live band, tonight their shambolic approach is definitely a success.
Of course the relationship between Doherty and Barât has always been at the centre of the Libertines experience, from the formation of the band to Doherty being jailed for burgling Barât's flat. Whatever the personal problems they have experienced, the duo's time apart has served to show how much better they are together. Tonight they are happy switching mics and sharing vocals as if it was the old days, with one particularly touching moment coming as they sing together the start of "Music When the Lights Go Out".
With every song wildly applauded and loudly bellowed back at them, the band never let the pace up for the whole set. "Can't Stand Me Now", with the interplay between Doherty and Barât, feels incredibly cathartic and "Boys in the Band" is another enjoyably raucous highlight. After all this time away, it would have been churlish of them not to do an encore, and they duly oblige, coming back to play - amongst others - "What Became of the Likely Lads" and "Up The Bracket".
As they finish, thoughts inevitably turn to what is next after this brief run of dates, and whether there is more to come or if this is merely a neat and tidy end to such a volatile band. There has to be hopes that it is the former - if they can stay on this form, then there could be an exciting new chapter for the Libertines ahead, something which seemed awfully unlikely not so long ago.
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