The Libertines have been bringing their frantic brand of indie rock to our ears for almost 25 years at this point. In this time, they’ve had their fair shares of highs and lows, with multiple best-selling, critically acclaimed albums and singles partnered with the much publicised struggles of frontman Pete Doherty, whose gift for song-writing went hand-in-hand with the self-destructive tendencies which eventually led to the break-up of the band in 2004. However, recent years have been kind to the band: Pete went away and got clean, the comeback album succeeded, and the band have managed to embark on several successful tours. The Giddy Up A Ding–Dong Tour is the current adventure, and last Monday, the band visited the Manchester Academy for a much anticipated performance.
As the room began to fill, an air of anticipation was tangible, with a capacity crowd itching for a good time, which was exactly what they got. Doherty and his co-frontman Carl Barat arrived on stage resplendent in flat caps, drummer Gary Powell in a striking bright yellow number and bassist John Hassall calm and collected in a more reserved outfit. Immediately, they launched into ‘What a Waster’, their debut single and a clear fan-favourite. Bodies flew about at the front as Pete branded the unnamed victim of his words a ‘two bob c*nt’, and in an instant the band were transported back to 2002, when this single was released.
Although 20 years older, with greyer hair and larger waistlines, the energy remained as intense as ever, as they quickly moved through ‘The Ha Ha Wall’ and ‘Up the Bracket’ before landing on ‘Gunga Din’, a song symbolic of the recovery of Doherty and the return of the band. As he and Barat swapped verses about their various troubles, it was clear the bond that had been forged between the two remained entirely in place, with their chemistry flowing right through the performance.
From there, ‘Barbarians’ got a good response, which was then dwarfed as the opening guitar of ‘What Katie Did’, a real cult classic for fans of the band. Another slow tune followed this as ‘You’re My Waterloo’, arguably the most emotional performance of the night, echoed over a swaying crowd. Whilst a much lower tempo than any other song played, there was no drop in energy, as Doherty professed his love for Barat through his carefully crafted words. A trio of tracks from their debut album Up the Bracket came on the heels of this, with ‘Boys in the Band’, ‘The Boy Looked at Johnny’ and ‘Begging’ only broken up by ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’, probably my favourite song by the band, an opinion I can infer was shared by many of the crowd, such was the intensity and passion of the response to it.
The classics continued soon after, as the band slowed right down for ‘Music When The Light Go Out’, keeping the balance between their trademark of ‘having it off with a mental crowd‘ and managing to tug on the heartstrings. As with the rest of the set, the slow track was swiftly followed by quicker tunes to get the crowd going again, with ‘Horror Show’ and ‘Heart of the Matter’, two belters from opposite ends of the Libertines chronology. ‘What Became of the Likely Lads?’ was next, a lament to the often fragile relationship between Pete and Carl. To finish the main section of the set off, they further harked back to their beginnings with ‘The Good Old Days’. This further aided the ‘mental crowd’ and, as the likely lads walked off, the crowd buzzed in anticipation of the encore they knew was coming.
After a protracted wait, the band arrived, immediately opening back up with ‘The Delaney’, a track which was an early B-side and, despite never making it onto an album, can always be found being played live. This was followed by ‘Fame and Fortune’, a recount of the early days of the band, with tales of classic Camden clubs central to the chorus. ‘Death on the Stairs’ came after this, a classic from the early days and far more laidback than most Libertines tracks, allowing the crowd to take a slight rest before the inevitable intensity of the ending.
‘Don’t Look Back into the Sun’ had the crowd bouncing again, with the iconic riff floating across a writhing mass of people right to the back of the hall. To cap an incredible set off, ‘Time for Heroes’ was selected as the closer for the night. As Pete rattled on about the ‘stylish kids in the riot’ as well as laying into Englishmen who would dare wear a baseball cap, it was clear that all the years of chaos, conflict and recovery had failed to dampen the energy and skill of the band who can easily be called the best British band of their time. After the song finally closed, the crowd celebrated the band, with Carl, Pete and John all receiving a rapturous reception, before the biggest cheer of the night was unleashed for Gary, who lapped up the attention long after his bandmates had left the stage.
It was clear walking out of the gig that everyone present had witnessed something special, with people singing along to their favourite tracks of the night and reminiscing on the best moments with their mates as they set off into the night, I can personally say I’ve not felt like that after a gig in a long time, just holding a real sense of energy and passion for life. The Libertines are not a band to miss out on seeing before they eventually call it a day.
Read about the gig Pete played with the Puta Madres a little white back here
You can find the band on Spotify here!