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
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
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.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all