The Libertines review – still creating their own mythic England

Victoria Warehouse, Manchester
Carl Barât and Pete Doherty’s punk-rock singsongs may be out of step with today’s reality, but they still have their old vigour

When the Libertines emerged in 2004, the Londoners’ knockabout rock’n’roll and poetic lyrics about a mythical England had real cultural impact. Frontmen Carl Barât and Pete Doherty’s trademark, post-Clash blend of leather jackets, tight trousers and trilbies popped up in the high street and numerous bands were inspired by their blend of the Smiths, the Jam, Chas and Dave and music hall – though few bands now create what is so defiantly and convincingly their own world. The quartet stride on stage to the wartime sounds of Vera Lynn and turn a cavernous northern warehouse into a punk-rock East End singsong.

On-stage collisions, hurled microphones and fiery banter have given way to an unlikely development: a tightly drilled, almost – gulp – slick rock band delivering their songs with the care they deserve. Doherty’s problems with addiction are well documented – and this year’s exploits have ranged from arrests to being injured by a hedgehog – but his new haircut takes years off him and his singing is as beautifully crumpled as his suit. There are no new songs (ahead of a projected fourth album), but the 22 they play stretch across their catalogue and so many remain gems.

What Became of the Likely Lads – young men foretelling their own regretful futures – is even more poignant now and What Katie Did sees the audience bellow along as if they are singing their own lives. The setlist doesn’t depart much from their trademark rock’n’roll, but when Barât turns pianist for Dead for Love and the sublime You’re My Waterloo, he suggests an alternative direction.

There’s a jolt into the present day when the crowd spontaneously sing, “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn” and Doherty addresses the UK election: “Don’t let it be the Tories!” Otherwise, the Libertines are probably trying to figure out where they fit into a world with Ed Sheeran and Cardi B in it, but on this form it would be foolish to write them off.

• At Victoria Warehouse, Manchester, on 11 December. Then touring until 22 December.


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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