Alexandra Palace – September 29th
It was easy to lose your proverbial faith in love and music if you were present at the last two British Libertines reunions. Their appearance at 2010’s Reading and Leeds festival was unashamedly a cash-in with Peter Doherty making merry at the Boogaloo about the £1.2 million put on the table. The violence greeting them at Reading forced them to halt their set twice and the promotional campaign around the shows was confusing and ambiguous at best, much like Carl Barat’s comments at the time. The greatest mystery which perhaps wasn’t a mystery was that they promptly disbanded again.
In the four years between that and their Barclaycard BST appearance all four members dropped off the radar. The only significant news to emerge was that Peter was appearing in a French film, touring a new Babyshambles album, and still having enough money problems to prompt opening a shop in Camden to sell his various third-hand trinkets. Speculations both in and between the sporadic lines of press copy made it obvious why The Libertines were dead in the water.
This summer’s second effort at Hyde Park yielded the crumb of optimism fans were begging for. Sober and serious, it seemed little could taint this honest attempt at respectability. Still, when flanked by huge Barclaycard signs, an ultraviolent crowd crush, poor sound and organisation, and the prospect of a multimillion pound European festival tour looming overhead, the spectacle appeared to be some kind of corporate joke. Thankfully we got Ally Pally.
Although the crowd are promised new material, they don’t get it. Tonight though, they see a slick and well-oiled machine, a band back from Europe determined to prove itself as a formidable live entity. Nothing about the music played is shambolic although it’s blissfully ramshackle, and the audience aren’t in the mind to cause violence either, just to be merry. ‘Vertigo’ and ‘Horrorshow’ sound tighter than they’ve sounded before; ‘The Haha Wall’ is met with loud cries of approbation and the magic of ‘The Good Old Days’ is rekindled with its explosive dynamic variation. The Libertines’ audience has aged and they’re ready to grow with them. Predictably, sing-along songs like ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’ and ‘Don’t Look Back Into The Sun’ leave the crowd rapt and arm-in-arm. It’s no longer 2004 and John Hassall and Gary Powell are no longer the only members holding the sound together. It’s like The Stone Roses at Parr Hall.
Ending with the double whammy salvo of debut single ‘What A Waster / I Get Along’ The Libertines finally show their fans the band they’ve waited ten years to see, before everything became a media circus and the daily red-top rags offloaded their morbid obsession with heroin, crack and Kate Moss onto the public through Peter. As the prospect of more shows and newer material becomes tangible The Libertines can plausibly reassert their relevance. London can sing its heart out again, the Albion has set sail.