Elliot Fox reviews indie rock legends The Libertines' show at Nottingham's Rock City.
The Libertines are one of the most influential bands of the last 30 years. In the year 2000, the London based four-piece released Up The Bracket, a rough-around-the-edges rock album that laid out the foundations of the next decade of indie rock. 20 years on from that debut, The Libertines take to the UK large venue circuit once again, stopping off at Nottingham’s Rock City on Monday night.
The heavy, noisy Dead Freights opened in support. Lead singer Charlie James has a slurred delivery not dissimilar to Alex Turner, or Pete Docherty himself, but the band itself was a lot more grungy. The swapping of drum kits and XLR cables follows, and then The Libertines shuffle out to the sound of Kool & The Gang. Pete Docherty lifts his arms to the crowd above a greasy mop of grey hair, accompanied by the eternally groovy Jungle Boogie. The mood is right.
''The tunes are so damn good that they somehow hold together''
The Libertines have a huge catalogue of tracks to choose from, but as soon as you can make out the jangly riff of What a Waster it makes so much sense as an opener. The angriest track, the most shocking track, and one of the earliest, What a Waster leaves as much of a mark as it did in 2002. It’s a straight up banger. The band follows up with Gunga Din, from their most recent album Anthems for Doomed Youth, which is already seven years old. It became obvious at this point that Docherty’s voice has lost some of its strength and passion in recent years, but luckily the crowd could hold a tune. As ever with The Libertines, the tunes are so damn good that they somehow hold together, no matter how sloppy the performance.
The cloud of distorted filler tracks (from various albums) that followed had the silver lining of letting some of the other band members shine. John Hassal’s bass is smooth, melodic and tasteful throughout, and Gary Powell killed it on the drum kit as per usual. At various intervals, Powell would inject the set with an energetic and tight drum solo, distinguishing himself from the stubbornly amateur guitar work of Docherty and lead guitarist Carl Barrat. These instrumentals are, at the very least, more effective than the inaudible radio sample trope the band employed throughout the set.
A crucial moment of the Nottingham show was the band’s famous double-shot of nostalgic sadness: What Katie Did, followed by the more recent You’re My Waterloo. Barrat brought strong lead vocals to the former track, but slowed it down to a painfully melodramatic pace several times throughout. It almost appears that Carl has performed the song so many times that he feels the need to mess around with it to have any fun. This brings light to the biggest problem The Libertines face in their live performances. It’s blatantly obvious at any given time that at least half the band is sick to death of the song they are playing.
It’s hard to blame them. Playing the same songs countless times, sometimes for over a decade, is bound to make you sick to the core. It is, however, a key element of showmanship to disguise that for gigs. For an upbeat band like The Libertines, it’s not enough to just stand there and play the songs. It’s crucial that they look as if they’re enjoying them. A tiny moment of unenthusiasm from Pete, such as refusing to shout the “yaarr!” at the beginning of Don’t Look Back Into The Sun, or an eye roll at his own lyrics in Music When The Lights Go Out is enough to suck the life out of a whole performance.
''Both Docherty and the crowd made a huge noise for the final track, with spit, sweat and beer spraying everywhere''
By no means was the show completely stale, however. Can’t Stand Me Now got the audience belting lyrics back to the band, and other popular tracks like Heart of The Matter and What Became of the Likely Lads were absolutely blistering. During one of the strongest tunes of the evening, You’re My Waterloo, Carl Barrat took the piano intro, then jumped up quickly to grab his guitar and fully nail the solo. A true badass.
The Libertines closed their 5 song encore with Time for Heroes, a bittersweet anthem that encapsulates the entire appeal of the band in just two-and-a-half minutes. Both Docherty and the crowd made a huge noise for the final track, with spit, sweat and beer spraying everywhere. The rhythm of “did - you - see - the stylish kids in the riot…” is so infectious, it’s sure to stick in the heads of those 2000s fans that will be crammed into Rock City for many days to come. The closing track illuminates the beauty of this band. The songs from their early career are so potent, that no matter how long ago that was, or how sloppily they play, they can still pack an emotional punch.
Edited by: Amrit Virdi