You may be reading this blog, and thinking ‘’Doesn’t he just like Heavy Metal?’’ or at least ‘’Doesn’t he just like Heavy Metal and related Rock subgenres?’’ but I do like a little bit of Indie too. I like Arctic Monkeys and the Fratellis for example.
Most of all; I have been a die-hard Libertines fan since just before their first album was released. So many posters in bedrooms, reading all the fansites, being an active member of their forums, watching all the documentaries, reading several books, downloading all the bootlegs, crowdfunding the reunion DVD, crowdfunding their third album, covering their songs in my high-school band. I had every album, b-side, session and demo they ever released, followed all the twists and turns, watched every televised performance on British TV (and several non-British ones on the internet, obviously) as well as also obsessively followed their side projects too in the early years when they still sounded a bit like The Libertines.
One thing I never got to do however, was see them live. When they were new and exciting I was too young and lived too far away from anywhere they played around me. When they reunited I was too anxious and afraid (and low on cash) to go to the big festivals they were playing. I finally got tickets to go see them on the seaside sharabang tour a few years ago, and the bloody venue cancelled the gig for repairs. No joy. The closest thing I got to see was singer/guitarist Pete Doherty’s other band, Babyshambles (who I also really like, but to not quite the same obsessive level) back when I was in university. I remember being really jealous for years and years that my friend Stevie got to see Dirty Pretty Things live and I didn’t. (Guitarist/Singer Carl Barat and Drummer Garry Powell’s other band, and the best of all their side projects/spin offs in my opinion).
Finally, finally, finally, however, they announced a date near me, when I was old enough to go, can afford it, had time off work and the date wasn’t cancelled. Jack pot. To say I was excited for this gig is an understatement.
The one snag was, it was in Bristol. I’ve never gone to a gig in Bristol before, and I am a cowardly and fearful person, who was scared shitless of driving in the unfamiliar city centre, at night, in the dark, in winter. However, the drive there went really smoothed and I managed not to injure myself or others on the journey. Always a plus. I got to the venue, a little bit late. There was barely anyone there. I walked right up to the stage. I was only one person away from being front row centre. Jackpot again!
After a brief wait with a strange mixture of indie music, David Bowie classics and music from musicals playing over the speakers, the first support act came one. It was one man and an acoustic guitar. Ed Cosens (doing a solo career, away from his day job in Reverend And The Makers). It was really good.
Then came the main support act, ZuZu, a very stylish indie band, with a very sassy singer, a guitarist so happy he looked like he was on ecstasy and some very catchy tunes.. The only weird moment was when they did a cover of a hip hop song. It was great fun, but not my usual cup of tea. The frontwoman is so charismatic that I can foresee them getting quite big in the future. I hadn’t heard of them before, but I may check them out again in future. Like with the Crookes when they were supporting the Fratellis and then I ended up being a fan of them, since they were the type of music my wife also likes.
Ed came back and did some more songs while the road crew got the stage ready.
Then, the moment I had been waiting all night, all year, the last few years, and over a decade for. The Libertines took the stage before my very eyes. Opening with one of my favourite B-sides ‘The Delany’ and then ripping through a near equal split of material from each studio album, (and the non-album anthem ‘Don’t Look Back Into The Sun’ too, because it is one of their biggest songs and how could you possibly exclude it). They also mixed a nice ratio of punk tinged indie bangers, ballads, and acoustic numbers. It was a diverse and eclectic setlist and overall there was a very good balance of material for my first time seeing them, not too much of any one thing, and most sides of their broad appeal showcased at some point. They also made my day and played my absolute favourite Libertines song ‘Last Post On The Bugle’ which I wasn’t expecting but was ecstatic about. (Also enjoyable were deep cuts ‘The Saga’ and ‘The Ha Ha Wall’ from their 2nd and best album, the self-titled).
The performance, vibe, and audience reaction was absolutely magnificent. The sold out crowd bounced, sang and cheered like it was the second coming of the Beatles and Sex Pistols all at once. The movement in the crowd was more energetic than at Slayer’s farewell concert! Also; This has to be the only concert where I have sang every word to absolutely every song. Like, every line, for the whole evening. There have been some close moments, but I think this is the closest to 100% of the words I have ever got to. By the looks of it, I wasn’t the only one. It wasn’t just the big famous songs like ‘Time For Heroes’ and ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’ that the audience sang along to. People were going apeshit to tracks from all era of the band; the likes of ‘The Good Old Days’ and ‘Barbarians’ that aren’t even singles. Clearly this is a band that inspire that kind of die hard, life long, love every second fandom.
The sound and mix were perfect. You could hear every member equally, the basslines and kick drums were every bit as clear as the vocals and guitars. When Carl played piano on the ballads ‘You’re My Waterloo’ (from the new album, but also a classic demo from before the debut album) and ‘Dead For Love’ it was perfectly balanced and didn’t overpower the songs. I almost want to give shout outs to members, but the thing is they were all so good, that there was no man of the match, (no MVP if you aren’t British). The thing about the band is that they are such a unit, with each member bringing a very equal part of the puzzle. Garry has always been one of my favourite drummers. He has such a unique and distinct character to his playing, an absolute power house and always such fun to listen to. John is the best bass player I’ve heard who isn’t in a Metal band and the best musician in the band, often the driving force of the songs when the guitars go more jangly. Carl is the beating heart of the band, the real star, one of the best front men who doesn’t have a gimmick, and the reason I fell in love with the band all those years ago before the Pete’s drugs/fallout story overtook the public perception of the band. And Pete… well Pete is the Nikki Sixx/Sid Vicious icon with the story, but with the songs and the charm to back it up. My generation’s Kurt Cobain for sure… Not a Yngwie Malmsteen guitar god. Not a Freddie Mercury vocal god. Too much media attention and tabloid headlines for some folks to give him proper credibility. And yet, the writer and singer of some of planet Earth’s most memorable tunes. All of them played their hearts out tonight. Effortlessly cool. Tight and loose at the same time. Professional and raw, the best of both worlds.
I had such a great time. Having dreamed of this day since I was in school, and having figured I’d never see them when they split up, and feeling gutted when they did reunite but I missed out on the previous tour due to that venue cancelation, this was a perfect evening. This was worth the wait. I can’t get over what a fevered audience reaction they caused. I can’t get over how perfectly it sounded live (but still retaining their ramshackle punky energy, not sounding overproduced). I can’t get over what a perfect setlist they chose.
The only complaints are that they didn’t play… literally all the songs they ever released! No combination of songs in the time allowed would ever satisfy every fan urge I have. I mean I could swap out any song for some B-Side like ‘Skag And Bone Man’ that they used to play all the time, or some rarity like ‘Never, Never’ that they don’t seem to ever play, and I can’t believe they didn’t play the fan favourite, historically important early single ‘What A Waster,’ but given the time constraints, they chose a well-balanced and perfectly flowing set). It was better than I expected.
It was better than the classic-in-my-mind Live at CBGBs and Live In Toronto bootlegs. Better than their televised performances at Glastonbury and Reading/Leeds Festival over the years. Better than any guest spot on TV shows like Top Of The Pops. Better even than their only official live album, Live At The 02 Academy Glasgow 2015. The band were on absolute flipping fire last night (and from the reviews I’ve now let myself read, they seemingly have been all tour). If you ever get the chance to go see them, snap it up in a heartbeat! It is not a case of solo artists getting back to the old band for a paycheck. It isn’t sloppy old addicts reliving old glories long since past. It isn’t any cynical thought you could think. It is a seminal and generation-defining band, back at the peak of their powers, with fire in their eyes and an arsenal of undeniable tunes to chose from. I had an absolute blast, you will too if you get the chance.
[Side note: this was one of the best concerts I have ever been to, and it was just some dudes on a stage. I know that I love lasers, pyro, costume changes, explosions and spectacle, but you can’t beat good music played with passion, its always the music and the performance that makes a concert magical. The most Rockstar thing to happen was a drum solo, and the two guitar players tuned their guitars over the top of it].