If there is one thing that Babyshambles have taught us, it’s to think twice before making a king out of a Libertine. In 18 months the Arcadian dream has been tarnished by everyone from drug dealers and policemen to smut-peddling tabloid hacks, and as we go to press it’s a real possibility that Mr Doherty will soon be rejoining General Santana et al in the Pentonville crime zoo.
But as one hero is taken, another has returned. The red tops may not have his lawyer on speed-dial and Ladbrokes don’t give odds on his arrest. You’ll find no supermodels rubbing disco salt into their eyes at his gigs and, presumably, your mum can’t even name the guy. Fortunately, the only people who matter (ie, all of us) don’t give a shit about all that. Rebekah Wade probably doesn’t understand why the return of Carl Barât is every inch as important as the Pete Doherty circus of shame and misery, but you do.
Outside The Cockpit, even a blizzard hasn’t stopped the faithful queuing to get in early. “I don’t want to miss a minute of the evening,” says a shivering devotee. “We want Carl to know how much he means to us.” Bands come and go, but the fans are here for eternity. Tonight they come as proud Libertines, excited to see their old comrade back in action. The question is – can Dirty Pretty Things rise to the challenge and become the band that the Libertine generation so greatly deserves?
As they crash into their set it is clear that this is a band with fire in their belly. Where sometimes Babyshambles look like they could pass out onstage at any second, Dirty Pretty Things are upright and raging. Opener ‘Deadwood’’s charged outlaw punk sets the tone for the evening. “Mark my words, something’s going to change,” promises Barât as the track kicks along in the vain of ‘Last Post On The Bugle’. The leather-clad gang of Barât, Didz Hammond and Anthony Rossomando (each clasping a cigarette between their teeth) deal out their three-minute assaults relentlessly; smashing through ‘Doctors & Dealers’ and ‘If You Love A Woman’ at a rate that makes the Libs look like Zero 7. An enthusiastic start is compounded by ‘Gin & Milk’, which sees Carl underlining his singularity in a world that lacks passion and belief. “No-one gives two fucks about the values I could kill for”, he sings. It’s a call to arms, an irate revamp of ‘Time For Heroes’ which draws the nutters onto the stage. It could be the Rhythm Factory circa 2003.
New single ‘Bang Bang You’re Dead’, a jaunty pop track in the mould of ‘Boys In The Band’, stands out like an old favourite tonight. The gin palace swagger of its slurrey singalong chorus is belted out by the lively crowd with boozy enthusiasm. The soulful ‘If You Were Wondering’ is as close to a slow song as they get but when ‘Death On The Stairs’ makes a surprise appearance mid-set, it’s a reminder that this man carried The Libs around the world for six months without his celebrity partner.
“Oh. My. God!” screams a girl beside NME as she recognises the bassline of final encore ‘I Get Along’ and charges forward. Our sentiments exactly. For three minutes the place tears itself apart in a sweaty rush of blood and excitement. Then, flinging his guitar to the ground Barât launches himself into the throng before security can pull him free. “Carlos! Carlos! Carlos!” chant the crowd, swaying with breathless cheer.
Backstage, Carl’s triumphant. “It’s a return to the fury of The Libertines,” he says. “People have kept the spirit in their hearts. We’ve been missing it and they’ve been waiting for it. Two of this band were in The Libertines, so obviously there is an essence of what was there before. We just weren’t sure whether or not it was going to make people fucking jump on each others’ heads and invade the stage, but now it seems that it does.”
Indeed, and more besides. While it is unlikely that he’ll be following Pete onto the front pages, the power of what Carl Barât helped invent with the Libs remains. At a time when Mr Doherty may well be spending a sizeable portion of 2006 in prison, DPT’s arrival could not have been timed better. Tonight they’ve proved that even if the captain may have changed, the good ship Albion is back on course.