The Libertines, Forum, London

Carl Barat and Pete Doherty put past differences behind them to remind us why the Libertines were such a cultural phenomenon

My first sound and sight, upon stepping out of the Tube into the pissing-down pavements of Kentish Town, are a wailing siren and a flashing blue light.

Oh no, not again Peter, surely? But the fluorescent jam sandwich speeds on past the Forum and away towards Hampstead. If anyone's going to stop Barat and Doherty this time around, it will only be themselves.

Before the Libertines' comeback has even begun, the celebrity circus that's sprung up around their personnel is already in full swing. Halfway up the open iron staircase on the left of the auditorium stands a beehived Amy Winehouse, regally holding court with bouncers in tow, receiving booze and boos from the plebeians down below, and eventually, when annoyance at her attempt to steal the show has reached critical mass, a chorus of "Who are ya? Who are ya?". Winehouse wasn't here in 2004, that's for sure. Mind you, in 2004 the who-are-yas would have been genuine.

On the face of it, the hysteria surrounding the cultural phenomenon of the Libertines – a passably good indie rock band whose Jam/Clash/ Smiths xeroxes were always somewhat on the slight side, but no more – was baffling. But cultural phenomenon they were, at least to a certain subset of a certain generation, among whom broke out a very old-fashioned kind of fandemonium that most assumed had died out.

The mania can be explained by three factors. First, the sex. The Libertines' twin frontmen were an odd couple. One, a classically handsome pin-up, the other a whelpish urchin who was a dead ringer for the young Rodney Bewes circa Billy Liar, but somehow had that star stuff, the unquantifiable qualities that get their hooks under your skin. Together, two skinny boys in too-big guardsmen's jackets singing into each other's faces close enough to kiss, or colliding like pool balls, was pure homoerotic catnip.

Second, the spontaneity. With their guerrilla gigging, their propensity to invite scores of fans into their living room for an ad-hoc happening and to give new songs away online, they temporarily broke the tyranny of the music industry's model of single-promo-album-tour. (It didn't last long.) And, ironically, their spontaneity unleashed a Silurian slurry of regressive imitators, public school berks in pork pie hats playing featherlight busker-rock and skiffle-ska (an era which has, mercifully, passed).

Third, the story. The Libertines, more than most, understand the power of myth, and the value of romanticising yourself as you go along (rather than waiting for others to do it for you in retrospect). I have it on good authority that, when Doherty was first kicked out of the band, Barat would receive condolences with a smile and a reply of "Oh, don't worry, it's good for the press." What happened next was a textbook case of "be careful what you wish for", as P-Doh turned into last decade's red-top bad boy of rock 'n'roll (albeit most readers couldn't name a song by him), the gutter press slavishly recounting his every antic, whether breaking into his bandmate's flat, beating up a film-maker, pursuing an on-again-off-again romance with a supermodel, stumbling in and out of Pentonville on drug offences. He even became a national hate figure for cruelty to cats long before we'd heard of Mary Bale.

It's moot whether this is their first comeback show or their 18th. Since 2004, throughout the Libs' hiatus and the lifespans of the mostly abysmal Babyshambles and mostly workmanlike Dirty Pretty Things, it seems barely a month has gone by without Pete 'n' Carl getting back together, whether on a pub sofa in Camden, or the stage of some dive in the enervated east or wasted west of London at a "secret" show that always mysteriously had an NME reporter and photographer present for a news spread. And even this Reading-Leeds warm-up isn't strictly their reunion debut: they played a closed-doors rehearsal show here to 500 friends the previous night.

Regardless, the mania is ratcheted up via Vera Lynn's "We'll Meet Again" and a slideshow of classic Libs photos, and the very theatrical hoisting of their The Libertines backcloth behind Gary Powell's drum kit receives a louder cheer than anything most bands I write about in this column actually do with their instruments.

When they finally saunter on in tight sweaters and V-neck Ts, flouting the cigarette ban, and rattle into "Horrorshow", beer flies in the air with the joy, abandon and lack of consideration of bullets at an Arab wedding. In an instant, my suspicion that the Libs left it too long and no one cares any more is looking a little silly.

After which it all becomes, well, professional. Carl's been making noises in the media about the music being right, and for the first time in their lives, they've nervously erred on the side of caution. There's precious little in the way of drama, aggro or chatter. Even the buddy act is toned town until "Can't Stand Me Now", their open-veined break-up song, is delivered to each other, and "Music When the Lights Go Out" is sung nose to nose.

The main set closes with their finest moment, "Time for Heroes", and comically, right on that wonderful line "there are few more distressing sights than that of an Englishman in a baseball cap", their merch guy, wearing one, vaults over the counter and runs out, as if shamed into quitting on the spot.

A nine-song encore, including the Libertines' other truly great moment "What a Waster", ends with a stage-managed hug, and a Doherty declaration that "Ladies and gentlemen, we are the Libertines." Yes, they are. And this time, they owe us more than one and a half semi-decent albums to justify the fuss. We'll be waiting.

Next Week:

Simon Price dries out his thigh-high waders after the Reading Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Britain's Got Talent judges: Simon Cowell, Amanda Holden, Alesha Dixon and David Walliams

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific
    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    Dame Colette Bowe - interview
    When do the creative juices dry up?

    When do the creative juices dry up?

    David Lodge thinks he knows
    The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

    Fashion's Cher moment

    Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
    Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

    Health fears over school cancer jab

    Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
    Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

    Weather warning

    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
    LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

    High hopes for LSD

    Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
    German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

    Saving Private Brandt

    A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral