The two most striking things about the Libertines‘ return to Ireland are the leap in quality – from half-arsed vagabonds to exquisitely ramshackle – and the adoration of the capacity crowd. In the first instance, these lads never claimed to be Pink Floyd; they play fast and loose and very, very intensely. There are mistakes and meandering chops but they seem to be brought about in the spur of the moment rather than by design. Getting carried away with it is par for the course. Secondly, their whole existence seemed to be a litany of disasters and the odd glimpse of what makes them special. From Peter Doherty’s self-destruction to the squabbling between band-mates, people identified with this and held up their rakish charm like lighters in the air at a Sting concert. So with all of that in mind, a slightly skeptical State is fully expecting to come, bear witness to the theatrics and sneak out before somebody gets sick or falls off stage.
Within ten minutes it’s clear what this band is all about, there is nothing but energy coming from the stage, no vomit and no flailing bodies. Gary Powell’s drumming is the very definition of powerhouse – there is nothing but sheer force behind that kit and so it will be for the next ninety minutes. John Hassall doesn’t put a foot wrong but hardly sets the world alight. Carl Barât and Peter Doherty, however, make such heady aesthetic soup that you cannot take your eyes off them for fear of missing something. Doherty’s lurching frame shambling from side to side as Barât stands, knees pointing inwards, twitching like a schoolboy needing a piss. It doesn’t sound great but the ever present twang and clatter of their guitars, along with the Cockney rabble voices, well, you get the picture. They look and sound every inch the Libertines they’ve named themselves after.
Their set is a fairly comprehensive overview of their patchy career, ‘The Delaney’, ‘Time For Heroes’ and ‘Music When The Lights Go Out’ all feature early and sound great. As cups of beer go flying overhead provide the only distraction from the stage, the frantic heaving of the crowd starts to resemble a pulsating heart. ‘What Katie Did’ and ‘Boys in the Band’ come spewing from the speakers like flares and as somebody somehow managed to squeeze a marriage proposal onto the setlist before ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’, how apt! Shane MacGowan, briefly, appears on stage to introduce the band’s encore and gets a deserving reaction from the crowd, and we get to hear one of the tracks from their upcoming album, Anthems for Doomed Youth. Generally speaking this is all you’re ever likely to get from the Libertines. Fully charged with pathos, venom and energy, their songs sound excellent. Wherever they’ve found this new vigour, let us hope that the well never runs dry and having witnessed them at their lowest, and now their peak, there is truly no comparison. They may still be barely cohesive, but that’s the beauty, exquisitely ramshackle indeed.
The Libertines photographed by Paulo Nuno.