The Libertines are the latest group to be thrust into the ring as the industry tries to find a UK guitar band capable of taking on the Strokes. Their cherubic, mischievous looks pout from a Union flag on the cover of this week's NME, and the foursome have been dubbed "the best new band in Britain", despite the fact that they have only just released their first single. The rabble-rousing You're a Waster is expected to enter the Top 40, despite a radio ban (courtesy of good old-fashioned swearing) and the fact that few people outside London have seen them play.
That is changing, but slowly. The Cockpit is half-full. The Libertines arrive late, slouch on in tight leather jackets and turn their backs on the audience. But as soon as they plug in their guitars, the transformation is extraordinary. As each song is delivered, the foursome - fronted by guitarist-vocalists Carl Bart and Pete Doherty, begin to shake violently.
Behind the bluster and hype surrounding them, the Libertines have a fighting chance. They are young, moderately, if scruffily, good looking and hilarious. Their interviews consist of tall tales about pasts as rent boys.
The gig is a lesson in brevity. They play seven songs (or rather seven short, sharp shocks). The entire show lasts less than half an hour. Their deranged guitar solos sound like 33 rpm punk albums speeded up to 45. Their biggest influence seems to be Razor Cuts-era Buzzcocks (although older cynics will mutter about Jilted John). I Get Along sounds like a riot in a living room; You're a Waster, an accusatory rant against a druggie female, could start the proverbial argument in a phone booth. Their success will depend on UK youth's capacity for yet another spunky, punky band to file alongside the Strokes and Hives. The Libertines leave without an encore, although there's just enough here to suggest we will be hearing more.
At the Princess Charlotte, Leicester (0116-255 3956) tonight, then touring.