Review: The Libertines’ still relevant at rowdy evening at the O2

16th December 2019


Four days after Labour were resoundly defeated in the epochal, Brexit deciding General Election of last Thursday, the sound of “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” (to the tune of ‘Seven Nation Army,’ obviously) emanates from pockets of tonight’s packed crowd. It’s something to do while waiting for The Libertines’ hustling guitar techs to tune, tune and re-tune again but – instead of a boisterous rallying cry for social change – the chant now sounds like the posthumous death rattle of a failed political dream. It’s soon replaced by Vera Lynn singing ‘The White Cliffs of Dover’ and the boys in the band enter stage left. Pete Doherty – in a flat cap and giant coat fastened to the neck – looks like an evening stroller who has just come in from the glacial December night. A mass launching of audience beer welcomes the opening bars of ‘The Delaney’ and the wait has been totally worth it.

When The Libertines’ last played here in September of 2015, the question of whether they were turning into a nostalgia act or a bonafide reformed beast with new creative aspirations seemed a pertinent one. On tonight’s available evidence, the happy possibility that it could well be the latter is fully in play. Amongst the general demographic of those teetering at either side of middle-age are a smattering of youthful indie kids whereby Anthems For Doomed Youth – released a few days following that previous show – could well have been their first contact with a Libertines ablum.

Last time round these new songs were a mild inconveniece to endure between the established favourites; four years on, it appears that bonds have been formed. The surging verses of ‘Heart of the Matter’ – Doherty and Carl Barat’s apparent flagellation against their former miscreant selves – are met with a boisterous singalong and a wave of pogoing near the stage. ‘Fame and Fortune’ is greeted in similar fashion as its soldiers-at-arms, sea shanty chorus induces a comparably euthisastic response.

Though serious Libertines’ fans would’ve been aware of the song existing in demo format from the band’s earliest days, ‘You’re My Waterloo’, another song from Anthems, is also well received. The romantic paean to brotherhood features, uncharacteristically, Barat (looking positively Droog-like in fedora, white shirt and braces) at the piano and a technician fleetingly becomes the fifth Lib as he executes a pristine, rather off-brand, guitar solo.

Despite all that, it’s of course the old favourites which induce – in an unrelentingly rowdy gig – the most bedlam. At the intro to ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’, there’s a partial crowd surge to the front, a shirt that has been tossed around the audience lands at Barat’s feet, a sea of smartphones attempt to capture the chaos and Doherty’s effete vocals are bolstered by the euphoric sound of 1,000 plus people bellowing “The world kicked back a lot fuckin’ harder now.”

There’s a horizon of flicked V-signs during ‘Up The Bracket’ (“you see these two cold fingers, these crooked fingers…”), the evening’s biggest beer shower and the crowd go positively ape-shit during the scuzzy discord of Barat’s guitar solo. After a teasing intro from Barat, the excellent ‘Time For Heroes’ emerges ferociously amidst an audience showering of ice, clothing and lager. Even John Hassall – a dependably stagnant joss-stick of a bassist – injects some sass by raising his instrument.

The Libertines’ song-canon is so formidable that one is actually glad that, save Barat shouting “Bristol!” early doors and drummer Gary Powell embarking on a brief bit of cheerleading, the band barely address the audience. A constant barrage of quality songs with great melodies and memorable lyrics being celebrated by an indefatigably lively audience is all that is required. It’s been a rowdy one but, with a five track encore, there’s time for more.

It includes ‘France’ which makes an unexpected appearance after an audience request, a slightly altered version of ‘The Good Old Days’ (the most likely lyrical tattoo choice for Libertines fans “If you’ve lost your faith in love and music, the end won’t be long” appears twice) and ‘Don’t Look Back Into The Sun’, offering a final chance to get lost in the pandemonium, ends amidst a wall of shreiking feedback. With rumours of new material being planned for next year and capable of this sort of live show, The Libertines of 2019 still have something to say.

Scott Hammond