The Libertines at Glastonbury 2015 review – whimsical nostalgia

Pyramid stage
One rare moment captures the incendiary romanticism between Pete and Carl, but fails to light a new-found fire

“Nah, it’s definitely, definitely Taylor Swift,” one smug-faced punter drawls. “Oh,” he stutters glumly, minutes later, as Libertines frontmen Pete and Carl tumble on to the stage in tailcoats and trilby like extras from an Oliver Twist remake. Bastille, Foals and even One Direction were touted as possible surprise replacements for the slot Florence + the Machine left bare when Foo Fighters had to pull out, but an Instagram snap from a Worthy Farm-bound private helicopter confirmed it was the reformed indie heroes – fresh from Pete Doherty’s recent stint in a Thai rehab clinic.

They open with a limp version of Vertigo, which plods along like a Monday morning rehearsal rather than Friday-night Glastonbury showdown. But then Pete Doherty addresses the crowd, looking out over a golden sunset, to pay tribute to his friend and collaborator Alan Wass, who died of a heart attack earlier in the year. “If you’re looking down, I’m looking up,” he mutters. They’re brief, but tender words that show Doherty is still very much the wordsmith.

The set rattles on with a home-for-dinnertime mendacity: Horrorshow is sloppy and rigid, and the cor blimey drawl of The Boy Looked At Johnny – written when Razorlight’s Johnny Borrell was still in the band, feels staid and dated.

Time For Heroes, Can’t Stand Me Now and What Katie Did, however, are triumphant set-savers; the crowd roar as Pete and Carl recreate their now iconic album sleeve pose, face-to-face, brothers in arms. Their matching Libertines tattoos are still prominent – and doubtless there are legions of fans in the crowd tonight with replicas inked onto their own skin.

As the set closes with a victorious Don’t Look Back into The Sun, they tumble to the ground and kiss in a defiant moment of carefree abandon. It’s a rare spark in tonight’s set that captures the true heart of the Libertines – the romanticism between Pete and Carl, that incendiary love-hate relationship that lead to their spectacular break-up after just two albums.

The legend of the Libertines, however, has always lain in what was and might have been, rather than what is now. A handful of new tracks do little to distract from the notion that tonight’s set was about whimsical nostalgia rather than a new-found fire. Again, it feels like another missed opportunity.


Jenny Stevens

The GuardianTramp

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