The Libertines: How Headline Reading Festival Slot Righted The Wrongs Of 2010

The Libertines’ legacy was built on tiny gigs in intimate venues like Whitechapel’s Rhythm Factory and the band’s own Bethnal Green flat, the Albion Rooms. So when they played Reading and Leeds Festival in 2010, it was a shame, but in a way no surprise that the passion and fury they packed into sweat-drenched dives didn’t quite translate. Headlining the festivals for the first time this year, things could have gone horribly wrong, but five years on, they righted the wrongs of a missed opportunity and proved their worth as a massive attraction worthy of their billing.

The band were tighter than ever
“The Libertines have never greatly flourished in a standard rehearsal situation,” Carl told NME the week before Reading and Leeds, but conceded that the band were due to bolster their summer of festival performances with some sessions in the final few days ahead of the shows. Where in Leeds, reports came in of a band who took a while to get going, at Reading, The Libertines flew out of the traps. Throughout they were tight and together, but still had room for ad libs and spontaneity. Having spent the last few months oiling their machine has done them the world of good, compared to the minimal warming up they had in 2010, and meant their Reading headline set was a bolt of deft brilliance.

They looked like they were having fun
From Gary Powell’s playful drum solos between songs and getting on Pete’s shoulders as the band left the stage, to Pete launching himself into the drum kit at the end of a rampant ‘I Get Along’, the band looked like they were having a ball. Five years ago, there was a palpable sense of nerves floating from the stage. Big stages like Reading’s main stage might not be a natural home for The Libertines, but by approaching their set with confidence and embracing the momentous sense of occasion, the band proved they could make larger gigs completely their own too.

Despite the grand occasion, things still felt distinctly Libertine
There might have been fancy lights and video footage flickering away on a giant screen behind the band, but the likely lads brought their own aesthetic along with them too. A white banner, crudely cut to match their logo, hung from centre stage, bringing an edge to the usual gleaming production that every band deploys when they get the opportunity to top any festival bill. With the band dressed in leather jackets and natty bandanas, it felt almost like watching 2004 Libertines, but transplanted onto the biggest stage you can imagine.

The last five years have grown their legend
In this year’s crowd, tonnes of teenagers gathered to witness a band they’d probably never seen before. New stuff like ‘Gunga Din’ went down a storm, but it was the likes of ‘Don’t Look Back Into The Sun’ and ‘What A Waster’ that really raised Reading to the ground, rife with the sort of anticipation that only comes when you’ve waited years to see a legendary but almost lost band. Time only makes that sort of thing more powerful, and so when the classics dropped, it was like cracking open a shaken up can of beer – chaotic, messy and heaps of fun.