12 March 2004

The Libertines

The Libertines
Brixton Academy, Friday 5 March

This was an enjoyable shambles.

When it comes to the Libertines, ‘shambles’ is not a criticism. It’s what they do. Chaos is what they’re best at. That meant they’re a band always worth seeing. You never know quite what you’re going to get, and surely unpredictability is part of what drives people to see live music? For example, I hated the Kills when I saw them last year, because they played along to a backing tape. We knew exactly what we were going to get. Even in an encore, there could be no spontaneity. Whereas with the Libertines, they teeter always on the brink of collapse.

I know I’m not supposed to like them. I look down on bands hyped in the pages of NME and similar comics. I am suspicious of them. I tried not to like this lot, but in the end what can you do? If you like the noise a band makes, what else matters? Up the Bracket is a great LP, filled with excitement and enthusiasm, a true debut album where there’s a clatter of a thousand ideas, a rush to say everything you want to say at once and an absence of insulating gloss. It’s a record to grasp immediately and then cherish for a long time. So what can I say? I gave in.

And I’d always go and see them live because they play on the edge. Anything might happen. This is a band that fundamentally doesn’t make sense. Two front men almost compete for your attention. They often share the same microphone, and seem on the point of kissing, or fighting, or both. Yet the drummer holds it all together. So frequently they look back and take their cue from him. You only feel sorry for the bassist. He’s the only one who still has his shirt on at the end.

When I saw them at the Kentish Town Forum at the end of last year they struck me as surprisingly tight. Not so this night. They are all over the shop. They play the songs too fast. Often, they get so excited, get caught in the wrong space, that they forget to sing. Microphone stands never stand for long. This means you don’t hear the songs at their best. Cherished lines are thrown away, favourites are clattered through at top speed, but by god it’s fun. I’m an old grump who always gets seats when available, but as soon as the band come on every single person stands up and stays standing.

They play everything on the LP and new songs that sound like the old songs. They play all their best songs too early and by the end it feels a bit stretched because they’ve forgotten to finish with some crowd pleasers. The lights go on without an encore but really there’s nothing left to play. They got to the end of the night without self-destruction, and people seem mildly disappointed.

They will not be around forever this band. See them while you can.

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