Back in August I heralded The Libertines headline set at Leeds Festival as what could have possibly been the return of The Good Ship Albion. I wasn't the only one. It seemed Libertine fever had arrived again; like a sub-tropical disease, contracted during the band's sojourn in Thailand and spread on their return. This culminated in a handful of raucous and sweaty club shows, all without a hint of the unreliability of the old days.
Until there was. A crowd in London was kept waiting, only to be sent home well after curfew. The following night in Manchester was cancelled and the inevitable aspersions were cast on Doherty's new-found sobriety. It turned out an anxiety attack was the reason for Pete going AWOL, but it had been ten years since The Libertines had last played in the city, and it's for that reason tonight that the band have something to prove.
Unfortunately, for a band whose name was made playing house shows and pop-ups in Camden, a vacuous arena space, made with money in mind rather than music, isn't an ideal place to do it. And while the band certainly have the tracks to fill such a space, tonight's set is back-boned predominantly by material from last years Anthems for Doomed Youth, a credible album in its own right, but one which has yet to find as sure a footing as its predecessors.
Of course, there are tracks from the album that will go down as “classic Libs”, and the majority of which find early inclusions in tonight's set. Opener 'Barbarians' is suitably chaotic, if not hampered by minor sound complaints, with 'Heart of the Matter' and 'Fame and Fortune' following soon after in similar fashion.
It isn't until a suitably boozy rendition of 'What Katie Did' about a third of the way through that the sound problems are ironed out and both band and crowd seem to loosen up. This is somewhat understandable, given that the majority of the crowd are here simply for the classics which, following an anthemic 'Gunga Din', the band roll out thick and fast.
'Can't Stand Me Now', 'Death on the Stairs' and 'Music When the Lights Go Out' are met with equal rapture from a baying crowd. Of course, with such emphasis on more recent material, there are going to be exclusions; there's no 'Up the Bracket', no '...Likely Lads', even 'Last Post on the Bugle' is omitted in favour of more contemporary cuts. A two-song encore more than makes up for it though, with both 'What A Waster' and the ever-anthemic 'Don't Look Back In To The Sun' playing the band out in true Libertines style.
Reigniting the original magic was always going to be difficult. And it's hard to ignore the irony of a band that epitomised a Camden-born counter-culture 12 years ago, playing tracks like 'Time For Heroes' under the logos of John Lewis and Waitrose. As such it's easy to imagine a smaller, less soulless venue serving them better. That said, this is The Libertines, a band still able to make hairs stand on end whenever Pete and Carl jostle for a microphone, brothers in arms after almost a decade apart.
Those in the standing section leave sweat-soaked and smiling as if they've just witnessed something truly special. A similar look to how I must have last August. Tonight though, perched precariously in the tiers, the only chaos we were subject to was a man two rows in front that accidentally poured kettle chips all over himself. Rock 'n' roll.