The Libertines at 3Arena – Review and Photos
If there’s one thing to be learned from the illustrious history of British rock music, it’s that the very best acts down through the decades all seem to rely on a healthy collaborative partnership. Looking back on all the greatest music the country has produced, a clear pattern emerges with a number of double-acts at the forefront of all the most iconic bands. Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, David Gilmour and Rodger Waters, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Morrissey and Johnny Marr, Ian Brown and John Squire, Liam and Noel Gallagher and so on… Back in the heady days of the early 00’s, The Libertines co-frontmen Pete Doherty and Carl Barat seemed destined to take their place in such esteemed company. With a dynamic creative partnership and a genuine musical and personal chemistry the band seemed destined for greatness before the wheels came off amidst a haze of drugs, violence, burglary, sackings, prison, and more drugs. Although their tale makes for some legendary rock n’ roll mythology, there was always a frustrating sense of an opportunity wasted. Pioneers of the UK indie rock boom, the band, with just two albums to their name, imploded before they got to really fulfil their potential, leaving the Arctic Monkeys to take the crown. The band split in 2005 at the peak of their popularity with Doherty proceeding to become a drug-addled figure of tabloid notoriety while the remaining members formed a series of less successful indie bands.
Tonight’s show is, somewhat surprisingly, their first headline date in Ireland, having played support to Supergrass in the Ambassador Theatre way back in 2002. It’s fair to say that the band’s many Irish fans had all but given up hope of ever seeing the full line-up onstage on these shores. But having reunited last summer, written and recorded a new album Anthems for Doomed Youth (set for release in September), and seemingly resolved all their old differences, The Libertines are making their second bid for glory. However, after more than a decade away, they now emerge in a vastly different musical landscape. Whilst not sold out by any means, the band attract a very respectable crowd to the 3Arena tonight considering their lengthy absence from touring or releasing new material. Manchester band The Courteeners were given the task of warming up the already rowdy audience and they deliver with a triumphant set drawn from all four of their studio albums. With a huge live sound and an impressive set of indie rock anthems they sound comfortably at home in the massive arena despite their support band status. The main attraction amble on stage fashionably late at 9:30 to the sounds of ‘Molly Malone’, receiving a hero’s welcome as they casually crank into a selection of up-tempo albums tracks. ‘Campaign of Hate’ and ‘Vertigo’ from their 2003 debut album Up the Bracket set the tone for the evening.
Few rock bands can divide opinion as strongly as The Libertines. Purists may scorn at their lack of technical proficiency and the lo-fi production values on offer. Their sound is a blend of the sloppy playing style of 70’s punk, the garage rock energy of The Strokes, and the memorable singalong melodies of Oasis. Fused together it makes for a notably ramshackle sound both on record and in live performance, but therein lies their charm. Songs drift in and out of tempo, guitar lines are fluffed on a regular basis, and Pete Doherty’s drawled vocals would horrify the X-Factor type of audiences who are used to being served music so polished you could see your own reflection in it. But the fusion of all these haphazard elements lends a thrilling sense of chaos to their live show and it’s the quality of the songwriting that wins through. ‘Time for Heroes’ is greeted with a roar of approval as the crowd roar back every lyric, and acoustic ballad ‘Music When The Lights Go Out’ evokes an impassioned singalong from a truly devoted audience who are spellbound by their heroes onstage. The reggae-tinged new single ‘Gunga Din’ goes down a storm despite having only been premiered last week, with a wonderfully catchy chorus hook: ‘oh the road is long, if you stay strong you’re a better man than I’ (even if it does heavily borrow its melody from Planet Funk’s ‘Chase the Sun’). The doo-wop strums of ‘What Katie Did’ provide some respite from the shows breakneck pace, ‘Boys in the Band’ has a real rock n’ roll swagger, while new song ‘Barbarians’ shows that the band have effortlessly picked up where they left off all those years ago. The crowd erupt upon hearing the opening strains of hit single ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’, most likely the song for which the band will be remembered, as Doherty and Barat trade vocal parts over a maelstrom of overdriven guitars. The co-frontmen’s high jinx however do overshadow a vastly underrated rhythm section of drummer Gary Powell and bassist John Hassall who don’t put a foot wrong all night. The crowd-pleasers keep on coming with the mournful ‘Tell the King’, uptempo rocker ‘Last Post On The Bugle’ and 2005 hit single ‘What Became of the Likely Lads’ closing the main body of the show.
As the crowd bay for the bands return, rock legend Shane McGowan wanders on stage to praise the group to the delight of all those in attendance. The band return with Carl Barat strumming an amusing, if slightly shambolic, cover of ‘Dream a Little Dream of Me’ in a half-joking manner. What follows is as good an encore you are ever likely to see. A blistering rendition of career highpoint ‘Don’t Look Back into the Sun’ sends the crowd wild. With no time to recover ‘Up the Bracket’ and vitriolic debut single ‘What a Waster’ are dispatched with thrilling ferocity. Having been hugely impressive throughout, the band seem to find a sixth gear for their encore; they sound tighter than they have been all night yet with the ragged edges still very much intact. A rousing rendition of ‘I Get Along’ brings the show to a close having ran out of time due to curfew restrictions.
Any misgivings about the band’s ramshackle style are silenced tonight as they deliver the type of rawkus rock n’ roll show that are sadly becoming a rarity, whilst also providing the venue security with probably their toughest nights work in quite a while, with full pints of beer flying through the air throughout the show, and a vast number of wild crowd surfers who may be nursing some very sore limbs the morning after. In a musical climate of manufactured pop and slickly produced radio friendly rock bands, The Libertines summon the anarchic punk spirit of yesteryear; no backing tracks or gimmicks, just four men onstage delivering an exhilarating night of high-octane unadulterated rock ‘n’ roll. Let’s hope they can keep it together this time around?