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Picture by Steve Cook
Don’t look back into the sun...
Sheer joy was my reaction to The Libertines’ announcement of their biggest ever live show earlier this year. A band I had loved so dearly during their oh so brief time together and was so thrilled by when they had their first reunion live at Reading and Leeds festivals four years ago. The chance to see the boys in the band do it all over again was a tantalising prospect shaped by my unshakeably fond memories not of their heyday, but that triumphant display at Reading in 2010.
Is it cruel or kind not to speak my mind/And to lie to you, rather than hurt you?
But, alas, the show The Libertines put in before a 65,000 capacity audience at Hyde Park last weekend was the stuff of nightmares.
There’s no denying it, I am a Libertines fan girl – I couldn’t sleep the night before the gig such was my anticipation (I know how lame that makes me sound, but please appreciate my honesty – which shall continue throughout this review). And yet I’m not a sycophant. I was not expecting a polished performance from The Libertines. They are The Libertines after all, and mild chaos is what they do. But for the £65, plus ever infernal “admin” charges, I paid to see them, I was expecting much more than the strained display that greeted my eager eyes and ears on Saturday night.
Prior to appearing on stage, a clearly inebriated and already dangerously swollen crowd were treated to the shrewd marketing move of an announcement of further live Libertines shows later this year at Alexandra Palace. Great, clearly the tickets will be more fairly priced than this joke of a day festival being sponsored by Barclaycard, where other acts on the depressing bill ranged from the dribbling, human pickle Shane MacGowan and The Pogues at one end to The Twang – THE TWANG! – at the other.
A montage of classic Roger Sargent portraits of The Libertines flashing across the screens proved to be an unwise move when compared to the men that paced onto the stage. Both Pete Doherty and Carl Barat looked filthy, covered in general dust, dirt and debris, with the former providing a reality check of just how much time has passed since we all first fell for this unlikely, shambling group. That is, of course, if you could even see them. An utterly obtrusive observation tower had been erected slap bang in front of the middle of the stage. So a view of Pete and Carl sharing a microphone once again was permitted to those either in the hallowed VIP section or those willing to risk their lives right in the thick of it down at the front. And risk their lives they did...
It’s a horrorshow come on down...
After the opening ‘Vertigo’ and a minute or so of ‘Boys In The Band’ the sound was cut and security made an extended attempt to help the hundreds of fans being crushed and trampled on. The band themselves also pleaded with the crowd to calm down and take a few steps back. But how long was it going to last? The barbed guitars and turbulent tempos that constitute The Libertines’ bursts of songs are designed to instigate frenzy. Though they manage to make it through ‘The Delaney’ and ‘Campaign Of Hate’ without any significant injuries further crowd surges hold up ‘Time For Heroes’. Later on in the night Carl’s solo acoustic spot ‘France’ is abandoned when members of the audience start scaling the sound delay towers.
None of this, of course, is the band’s fault. They did what little they could to quell the clear dangers within the crowd. The event organisers knew what kind of music the band play and how many tickets had been sold. More security should have been employed and more areas of the audience sectioned rather than just the “VIP package experience” ticket holders and guests...
None of this should have mattered. No one was expecting the gig to go off without a hitch. I mean, I’ve even experienced Pete Doherty playing a solo acoustic show at the Royal Albert Hall that ended in an en masse stage invasion and numerous police vehicles seeing the audience out of the Kensington area. But if the band had played anywhere near as well as they did that fateful night at Reading I would have left as a satisfied fan. And, quite simply, they didn’t.
There was no enthusiasm or excitement to the four of them revisiting their shoulda-been hits once again. Carl Barat looked extremely tense. The guitars were far too soft and lost in the sound mix. Gary Powell’s drumming, ever the back bone of the group, was unquestionably solid but the guitars just fell apart around him. Pete Doherty seemed lucid and engaged but was just getting the job done. The permanent frown fixed on bassist John Hassall’s face said it all.
Aside from the curious choice of playing ‘Radio America’ – the blight that tarnished Up The Bracket’s otherwise perfect running order – they air may of their greatest numbers; ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’, ‘What A Waster’, ‘What Katie Did’. But there was just no spark, no zing, no whatever-you-want-to-call-it that previously elevated The Libertines as a captivating spectacle. Even Pete and Carl pulling out their old shared recitation of Siegfried Sassoon’s ‘Suicide In The Trenches’ did little to help matters. If anything, it just made things worse.
Watery pinned eyes/My soul has gone a little cold
I left Hyde Park nigh on heartbroken. That was not the band I had seen shine previously. Would it be the same band that goes on to tour Europe throughout the summer before taking a triple victory lap at London’s Alexandra Palace in September? Will I even be there to see it for myself?
For me, The Libertines at Hyde Park was a write-off but I’m in denial that this should serve as the closing chapter to my experience of the band. My loyalty to them is strong but not blind. I sincerely don’t want to end this review with a highly predictable line from ‘The Good Old Days’ but it seems only fitting: “If you’ve lost your faith in love and music/Oh the end won’t be long...”
Written for DISORDER