The Libertines In Hong Kong – How Did The Band Fare In Their Asian Debut?

Clockenflap Festival, Hong Kong
November 27, 2015

Of all the possible bets laid in mid-2000s Camden boozers on how The Libertines would end up, few could have predicted the oddly Blade Runner-esque mise-en-scene that occurs when they arrive at 2015 at Clockenflap, the progressive music and arts festival on Kowloon Waterfront, looking out over the utterly stunning skyscraper light show of Victoria Harbour.

Stately Pete Doherty, wearing the Fat Controller’s top hat, comes to the microphone. Having spent half an hour rattling through songs that shake like old bones exhumed from another era, he finally opens his mouth to the most globalised festival crowd on earth. “This song’s dedicated to my mate in Hong Kong who designs dildos,” he chirps with an out-of-step vaudevillian pomp, before launching into ‘Time For Heroes’. At the same moment, a private aircraft heading for one of the sparkling skyscraper’s rooftop helipads glides in ostentatiously overhead. The clash of images is as beguiling as it is beautiful – and as old world / new world; East meets West as Hong Kong itself.

Given the Good Ship Arcadia kept on sailing this long, it was inevitable The Libertines would end up in China eventually. Now they’re here, what’s surprising is that despite how fascinated the audience are – a mixture of Chinese locals eager to witness the British legends, and Western expats holding onto their teenage love of the Libertines as a defence against the fact they grew up to be investment bankers – the band seem out of context up there on stage playing to the backdrop of a dazzling neon futuretropolis.

While almost every other foreign act performing over the weekend seems to squeal with joy at the mere fact they’ve been included on the incredible bill, Pete and Carl seem aloof and oblivious to it all. Maybe it’s the jet lag, but what it means for the fans is the show is shambolic in a way that we all know worked well in Whitechapel at 2am ten years ago, but in this streamlined super city just feels a little unprofessional.

An early airing of ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’ is plodding and downtempo; new tracks like ‘Gunga Din’ are met with a muted response, while ‘Last Post On The Bugle’ gets fucked up completely. Our frontmen do little to surprise and delight, their sharing of the microphone now feeling as kitchy and tired an image of British rock as red telephone boxes and Keep Calm & Carry on T-shirts are to imagined Britishness, leaving most of the evening’s stagemanship to Gary, who beams out from behind is drum kit, clearly loving every minute – his energy and focus manifesting with razor precision when he dives into a long, but thoroughly welcome drum solo.

The show does have it’s moments – the encore of ‘Don’t Look Back Into The Sun’ and ‘What A Waster’ are a brief glimpse of the camaraderie of better days, and the simple fact that a legion of Hong Kong fans’ finally get to see their heroes in the flesh is probably enough for them to get away with it. But with the stakes so high at this otherwise spectacular event, The Libs’ Asian debut feels out of date and disappointingly amateur.