Pop: Dirty Pretty Things, Brighton Concorde 2

The ex-Libertines, on the road in their swaggering new incarnation, retain the mayhem and urgency of old. But this time they're all playing the same tune, says Kitty Empire

Dirty Pretty Things Brighton Concorde 2

THERE are many occupational hazards that come with writing about live music. There's the unexpected use of lager as hair conditioner, the perennial dilemma of footwear (heels for height or steel toecaps for security?). Getting stuck in the crowd behind tall men wearing rakish trilby hats is a relatively recent hardship, one that can be blamed entirely on Carl Barat's former band the Libertines, and their heirs and copyists. It's a particular problem here tonight, as Barat's new band, Dirty Pretty Things, continue their UK tour in front of a gaggle of rabid, devotedly attired fans. One or two of them even shin up the pillars.

Dirty Pretty Things are a band lots of people - not just 5ft 4in reviewers - are curious to see. This extensive string of dates, their first proper tour, is sold out, as is an added London Forum date (capacity: 2,110), and the second London Forum date they announced after that. They've just added a third one for good measure. All the boys in the crowd look like they should be on the stage. The band, meanwhile, look more like a band than any band has ever looked. Sporting too-tight leather jackets and tousled hair, Dirty Pretty Things chain-smoke like lab animals and jitterbug about the stage as if their guitars were cruel electroconvulsive devices.

Like conspirators, they start most songs off with their backs to the stage, huddled around shirtless drummer Gary Powell, a recidivist from the Libertines. Guitarist Anthony Rossomando is surely a stray Stroke, his guitar lines as wiry as his frame and corkscrew curls. He was Pete Doherty's stand-in on the Contractual Obligations tour, the one the rump Libertines undertook after Barat and Doherty fell out over Doherty's erratic behaviour and drug use a couple of years back.

Bassist Didz Hammond, formerlyof Reading's Cooper Temple Clause, a group more famous for their daft haircuts than their pretty turgid music, is the only man without a Libertine CV. The front rows show him love regardless. When, at the end, all the band are shirtless, he is the only one who seems to have any subcutaneous fat to speak of. Singer and guitarist Carl Barat, meanwhile, is half-hoodlum, half-matinee idol; as the man who held it together while his former brother-in-arms fell apart, he's widely regarded as the more sensible of the two. It's all relative, of course. He swigs from a bottle of something strong; his trousers are held up by a Union Jack bandana and his default mode is hedonistic urgency.

Far from leaving his old band behind, Barat's happy to flash his Libertines biceps tattoo for eager photographers. Moreover, the Dirty Pretty Things encore is full of Libertines songs ('France' and 'I Get Along'); 'Death On The Stairs' drives the moshpit into a frenzy earlier in the set. Barat has said, however, that he wanted Dirty Pretty Things to be 'more gritty and less romanticised' than hisformer band. And they are. The songs that form their debut album, Waterloo To Anywhere, barrel past pithily, faster and sometimes with even more swagger than many of the Libertines' old tunes.

With such frenetic, punkish work to be done, there's no time for ballads or reveries, which, loosely, Doherty provided back in the day. Their token, sort-of love song 'If You Love A Woman' just sounds all wrong tonight. The only other change of pace, 'The Gentry Cove', is a reggae-ish lope that simultaneously recalls something Irish conscripts might have sung on their way to the Crimea; it's not that great either. With these attempts at shade, Dirty Pretty Things are probably right to stick to light.

In divesting himself of Doherty, Barat seems to have trimmed all the fat off his songs, and they sound all the better for it. You often had to hunt hard for Libertines melodies, but Barat has made sure these songs have them to hand. Rather than leading another band of beautiful losers, you suspect Barat would rather like some proper success now. 'Bang Bang You're Dead' (their first single, currently at number 5) sticks in the brain after one listen; 'Bloodthirsty Bastards' recalls Iggy Pop's 'The Passenger'; there's a brace of singalong choruses awaiting a time when the fans have got the debut album, which is released tomorrow.

Although these important diff erences between the Libertines and Dirty Pretty Things exist, Barat has also argued that they are 'logistical rather than philosophical'. Doherty probably thinks he best embodies the recklessness of the old Libertines questing spirit, but Barat still holds certain things dear. Tonight, 'Gin & Milk' is a breathless reiteration of part of the Libertines manifesto. 'I put gin in my milk/To kill all the germs,' sings Barat, celebrating a fusty spirit steeped in Englishness, 'No one gives a fuck about the values I would die for.' One of the greatest achievements of the Libertines was to articulate this yearning for a maverick Englishness without a breath of jingoism or racism; Dirty Pretty Things continue to do so. Only slightly faster.

The best song tonight is, however, 'Last Of The Small Town Playboys'. You don't expect subtlety from this last gang in town, but Barat's vocal has some great pregnant pauses, the bass and two guitars trade staccato bursts; Rossomando, meanwhile, bats his microphone with a nicely timed percussive 'pok'. Perhaps the time for more of this detailing will come later, once the big hurry is over.

The gig ends in happy carnality, with the semi-naked band wet with sweat and hugging. Barat stagedives; the rest of the Dirty Pretty Things hand out water, drumsticks, plectrums and cigarettes. They retain the sense of danger the Libertines had, but also the bonhomie and comradeship - something Doherty's Babyshambles appear to have lost in a miasma of squalor.

Vox pop: Do they miss Pete? The audience gives its verdict

Craig Wilson, 32, BBC editor
It was a bit like the Libertines without the soul. They had a lot of energy, but I felt there was defi nitely something missing. The guy from the Cooper Temple Clause was good, though.

Rhiannon Parkinson, 16, student
They don't have the chemistry that the Libertines had, but it's great to see Carl doing so well. I think the songs are still amazing, even if their lyrics aren't quite as in-depth as the Libertines' were.

James Greenwood, 25, warehouse operative
It's not really my thing, but I thought they were extremely tight, although the Libertines number they did at the end was a little sloppy. The crowd seemed into it and the atmosphere was great.

Finn Donahue, 11, schoolboy
They're the biggest band I've seen live and it was amazing to see them. I think Dirty Pretty Things will be bigger and better than the Libertines.

John Crandon, 23, carpenter
It was brilliant. The singles, 'Bang Bang' and ' Fuckin' Love It', were excellent. I enjoyed the support act, Rifles, as well. They were really good.

Interviews by Paul Weir

The GuardianTramp

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