The Libertines review – rousing and shambolic

British Summer Time festival, Hyde Park, London
Whether you find their inability to play charming or pathetic is really a test of how much you buy into the rest of their shtick

Having exiled Pete Doherty from the band before they had released their second album back in 2004, the Libertines' 2010 reunion shows aimed at providing some closure. Four years later, motives are more questionable. Having released no new material in the interim and flanked by giant Barclaycard logos, this reunion could be seen as little more than an upscaled version of the impromptu £20-a-head drug-money gigs Pete used to stage in his flat.

But cynicism starts to wane 20 minutes before the band come on stage, as they fire up old reels of Doherty and Carl Barât in each other arms, their tempestuous partnership relived in home video and disembodied quotes. It's a reminder that this was a band that was as much about their own myth and fatality as they were about music.

It seems to do the trick, as emotionally wrought fans charge the stage almost as soon as they come on, halting the punkish swagger of Boys In The Band for almost 10 minutes. Bizarrely, Doherty is turned into a health and safety officer: "Someone's passed out down there. We can't carry on unless you guys calm down a bit."

As ever, the performing ability on display is terrible: lyrics are mumbled; solos are fudged. Whether you find their inability to play charming or pathetic is really a test of how much you buy into the rest of their shtick: Doherty and Barât singing within snogging distance around a single microphone in What Katie Did, or reciting alternate lines from Sassoon's Suicide in the Trenches. As fans bellow a chorus of "Libertine til I die, Libertine til I die" between songs, it's clear they lean towards the "ramshackle charm" interpretation, rather than one of gross incompetence.

Perhaps the most emotional moment of the night is Dohery, grey-haired and soft-spoken, seizing the opportunity for a solo rendition of Albion while behind him a giant white screen says: "Please get down from the delay tower." It's rousing, shambolic and feels oddly true to the spirit of the band. Maybe they did this gig for the money, but you'd be hard-pushed to accuse them of cynicism after tonight.

Contributor

Sam Wolfson

The GuardianTramp

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