The Libertines, gig review: Best Kept Secret Festival, Holland - Little progress and no ignition for the Likely Lads

Gone are the taste-the-sweat London pub shows of old in which mistakes could be forgiven, and even welcomed

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The saga, and the infamy of the saga, of the Libertines is now one that has arguably outweighed the initial impact and longevity of their musical output. In the early-to-mid 2000’s they stirred a following that created fierce devotees and created a significant impact on the youth culture of the day, both sonically and aesthetically. Over a decade on and despite multiple bust-ups and problems, they find themselves back together again performing live for the first time in 2015.

Fresh off the back of the news that Pete Doherty has successfully gone through rehab treatment in Thailand after battling drug addiction, along with the recent announcement that the group are writing new, Amy Winehouse-inspired, material, tonight looks set to be a grand unveiling of a newly primed and recharged group. Yet the reality is not quite so.

Opening with a scrappy ‘The Delany’ what follows is a deep delve into their back catalogue, playing with all the haphazard and incoherent momentum of their former selves but lacking the charm and youthful naivety.  As they continue to tear through old favourites, including ‘Horror Show’ with fumbling, clunky gusto its apparent how far away the group are from the environments in which these songs truly came to life.

Gone are the taste-the-sweat London pub shows of old in which mistakes could be forgiven, and even welcomed, as such was the spontaneous and fun-natured intensity of the shows, and in is a huge stage in which every mistake and sloppy, out-of-tune, vocal is amplified to large, unforgiving, degrees. Even as they share a microphone – something of an iconic symbol of the group’s once harmonious songwriting partnership – it seems forced and gimmicky, something they are expected to do rather than a display of a mutually felt impulse born from a desire to express themselves collectively.

They do turn themselves around however and a few of the songs feel both tight and explosive, such as ‘Boys in the Band’ or ‘The Good Old Days’ and there are momentary rekindling’s of a magic that once clearly existed between the members, despite bassist John Hassell looking like he’d rather be anywhere else on earth.

The opportunity for the group to come out revitalised, fresh, forward-looking and brimming feels lost. However, when they come on for an encore they talk about not being allowed to play new songs. Whether that’s a reference to the festival or to management is unclear but either way they play one, “What’s the first chord?” Doherty asks out loud before they start.

This one and only new song of the evening is driven by a dub/ska heavy rhythm and complete with typically crude and primitive lead guitar from Carl Barat. Overall, it fails to ignite any real sense of excitement or momentum overall - it signifies mild variation but little progression. They finish on another oldie in ‘I Get Along’ but as Barat kicks the microphone stand off the stage and Doherty launches his guitar behind his head for his guitar tech to catch, the whole thing feels like familiar ground re-trodden by people wishing they still had youth and relevance on their side. There are enough moments to indicate that not all that once made the group exciting are dead but they are outnumbered by the moments of a group attempting to recapture a spark that’s looking increasingly difficult to reignite. 

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