What became of the likely lads? (Perhaps that is the most on-the-nose opening sentence you can find for a Libertines review, but it’s already typed so we’re not going back on it. Seriously, we’re not.) Well, after some much-publicised ups and downs, and a decade-long hiatus, Messers Barat, Doherty and the rest are in Dublin for the first time.
The likely lads have attracted a nice crowd – there are swathes of empty seats even without the very back section being open, but most of the standing room is manned – and are intent on giving them something to remember. From the opener of The Delaney, right through to I Get Along, 22 songs later there’s a spark that never dims.
It’s hard to pin down what that spark is. Neither Barat nor Doherty have voices that would bother an X-Factor judge (though Doherty’s is clearly more distinctive) and the sound never even approaches ‘tight’.
But maybe that’s the key: they still feel like they’re playing to a micro venue somewhere in London; to a dozen or so friends and lost tourists. The venue might be capable of adding a few zeroes to crowd numbers they began with but it doesn’t detract from the raw, unadulterated rock and rollness of the whole thing. There is an uncluttered immediacy to proceedings that makes it a thrilling show.
Nowhere is this noted more than on Gunga Din. While it may seem like a damp squib of a single a decade in the making, it is infinitely more exciting live. It’s the interplay between Barat and Doherty that works so well live. On their own, neither really has the ability to set the pulses racing – hence the failures of both Dirty Pretty Things and Babyshambles – but together they are so much more than the sum of their parts.
It’s fantastic to have Doherty back fit. He’s developed a paunch befitting a man of his years but still has a haunted look in his eyes. Nevertheless, he seems to relish being onstage, especially with Barat by his side. The two spend the show sonically sparring with one another or singing into the same microphone, a symbiotic relationship leading the band rather than two individual entities.
Neither seems a great raconteur, as evidenced by a horror show of a marriage proposal they were supposed to communicate between a Suzie and a James somewhere in the crowd, but they play some great fucking rock and roll; so who really cares at the end of the day.
There are some low points in the show, with Campaign of Hate and Death on the Stairs particularly ringing hollow. But when the lesser lights of their back catalogue like The Good Old Days and You’re My Waterloo shine so bright, it’s hard to complain.
It may not be pretty and it may not be clean, but when they can crack out Cant’s Stand Me Now and Time For Heroes to hit like a ton of bricks – not to mention a chorus including Don’t Look Back Into the Sun, Up The Bracket and What A Waster – it’s never less than exhilarating. Not even an appearance Shane MacGowan, who waddles up to the mic uttering something incomprehensible during the encore, can break the mood.
The Libertines are the maladjusted missing link between Oasis and The Arctic Monkeys (in the best way possible) and if they can continue to perform as they do here – and especially if they can recreate the fervour they generate live – surely they could rival those two for popularity. Fingers crossed this is a new beginning for the likely lads.