The Libertines live: The likely lads ascend once again at a riotous Bristol gig

Earlier this year, the doors opened for a sneak peek into The Albion Rooms, The Libertines‘ quirky new hotel, bar and recording studio in Margate. Carl Barât stated that this unlikely venture provided “a colourful and inspiring home for the Libertines” and described the concept of this new nerve centre as being something akin to Warhol’s Factory. Not exactly the move you’d expect of any band, let alone one with such a ramshackle reputation as The Libs. But the group haven’t pivoted entirely to savvy businessmen just yet, as their latest series of dates across Europe and the UK shows.

Through the strains of Vera Lynne’s ‘(There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover’, four distinctly recognisable silhouettes emerge from the darkness at Bristol’s O2 Academy. Clad in a dark suit, with cravat and wide-brimmed hat, Barât cuts an urbane, yet still slightly menacing figure, particularly when standing aside the flat-capped and woollen coated Peter Doherty. The same perilous allure that helped define the band as one of the country’s most genuinely exciting still radiates from the pair – their fractious, unpredictable relationship lay at the heart of the band’s legend.

There’s no time for greetings tonight (December 16), as we plummet headfirst into an energetic set. The hungry crowd begin to violently surge and sway as ancient fan favourite ‘The Delaney’ raises the room temperature. Though 2015’s comeback ‘Anthems For Doomed Youth’ was a more solid statement than perhaps many were expecting, the material from that record does pale when sitting alongside those vital songs from all-important 2002 debut ‘Up The Bracket’ and its eponymous, fractured follow-up. The rollicking, thunderstorm energy of ‘Horror Show’ (which highlights drummer Gary Powell’s rhythmic centricity to the band) the belligerent, rousing ‘Up The Bracket’, and of course the majestic ‘Time For Heroes’ – that imperative document of social decay, and the romantic mythology of revolution – are all rapturously received by the audience.

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That being said, though, there are some notable exceptions to this rule; the stately beauty of the Tony Hancock-referencing ‘You’re My Waterloo’ is a gem, foregrounding Doherty’s under-appreciated melodic talents. But also worth mentioning, for an entirely different reason, is 2002’s ‘Boys in the Band’, its lyrics’ loutish machismo a surprising anachronism.

But overall, The Libertines canon has endured, and it’s delivered tonight with an intensity and conviction that few bands can muster. Though some of those charged glances between Pete and Carl might seem a little performative these days, as the two now-business partners relive the schisms and tensions of their youth, The Libertines’ true legacy has always, really, derived from their songwriting. And boy, do those songs still bang.

Ultimately, the night’s strongest moments were those that stemmed from those first two records, and the tail end of a much simpler, alarmingly recent, yet wholly alien, age. An era when pop culture’s most potent currency was the type of rock’n’roll founded on the belief that music should strive to have a deeper impact. Doherty, Barât and their ilk were the last bastions of the essential hopefulness at the heart of those ideals – that music could change perceptions, and redefine their listener’s lives, be it via the intellectualism of artists like Bowie and The Smiths or the righteous, social anger of punk rock. That same faith coursed right through The Libertines’ best work and it’s still evident tonight, unwavering, unapologetic and yet to be stripped away.

WORDS: Andy Price

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The Libertines played: 

‘The Delaney’
‘Heart of the Matter’
‘Horror Show’
‘Barbarians’
‘Fame and Fortune’
‘Boys in the Band’
‘You’re My Waterloo’
‘The Saga’
‘Last Post on the Bugle’
‘Can’t Stand Me Now’
‘The Ha Ha Wall’
‘Dead for Love’
‘Gunga Din’
‘Up the Bracket’
‘What Became of the Likely Lads’
‘Death on the Stairs’
‘Time for Heroes’
‘France’
‘Music When The Lights Go Out’
‘What Katie Did’
‘The Good Old Days’
‘Don’t Look Back Into The Sun’

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