Indie Music

The Libertines review – raucous return for chaotic indie heroes

‘Good evening, Stockton-on-Tees!” yells Peter Doherty, as streams of lager and items of clothing fly over the tiny but wonderfully raucous crowd. Tickets sold out in minutes, and people hurl their drinks, bellow along, climb on each other’s shoulders and chant the name of drumming powerhouse Gary Powell. The Libertines are touring small venues to preview All Quiet on the Eastern Esplanade, their first album in nine years and one that brings elements of reflection and maturity.

When the Libertines first played clubs like this they were at the forefront of the early-00s indie rock boom. Now, they are an occasional arena band with a chequered history of meltdowns, a 10-year split (2004-2014) and Doherty’s well-documented drug problems behind them. Run Run Run, the first song played from the new album, combines lyrics about escaping the past with the steamrollering singalong quality of their early hits. The glorious Night of the Hunter – which begins “love and hate, tattooed on the knuckles round the handles of a blade” and incorporates a melody from Swan Lake – suggests that as middle-aged men they’re still able to channel an almost Dickensian parallel universe of lowlife, crime and violence into something poetic and romantic.

Doherty, who has reportedly swapped heroin for French cheese, has a Dickensian quality himself nowadays, while Carl Barât is as live wire as ever. The co-frontmen’s stage chemistry has survived their friendship’s ups and downs, and it seems telling that they no longer sing Can’t Stand Me Now while staring into each other’s eyes.

New single Shiver swaps their old ramshackle sound for something almost stately but as ever the gig occasionally threatens to deteriorate into a shambles. There are onstage discussions, missed cues and one song collapses altogether. However, old favourites Time for Heroes, What Became of the Likely Lads and Don’t Look Back Into the Sun trigger wildly celebratory scenes and in a way the gig mirrors their career. They are never too far from triumph or disaster, and part of the fun is guessing which one will come next.

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