The Libertines at The O2 Arena London

The Libertines in concert - 99PROBS

Walking into the press pit on Saturday 30th January, it was instantly apparent that the final leg of the 2016 tour of British arenas, had the potential to be a somewhat anti climax for The Libertines. The top tier of empty seat at the back of the stadium was hidden by a massive black curtain and the restaurants, bars and entrance foyer had a massively deflated atmosphere that I’d never experienced before. In fact, the biggest queue of the night wasn’t for the additional security checks put in place, wasn’t for the toilet, but queueing to get my press pass behind the massive line of guests waiting to get their complimentary tickets.

The Libertines-4

The Libertines-17

The Libertines in concert - 99PROBS

We were ushered in to the Arena early having photographed an underwhelming support acts including the foul mouthed Sleaford Mods and The Libertines being introduced by an unsigned, on the dole poet, Jack Jones, whose renditions about Ketamine & Poundland did zero to warm-up the predominantly teenage crowd.

Some twenty minutes before their published time, Pete Doherty, Carl Barat, Gary Powell and John Hassall made an uncannily early start to their set, completely fooling a number of the  photographers who were still seething from the bands September 2015 No Show at The Electric Ballroom.

The story behind The Libertines’ decade-long absence from the music scene is almost as turbulent as the beloved racket that placed them there. Over the course of 2003 and 2004 Doherty, addicted to heroin and crack cocaine, dropped the band.

The Libertines in concert - 99PROBS

The Libertines in concert - 99PROBS

The Libertines in concert - 99PROBS

Prison, failed stints in rehab and side-projects filled the remaining 13 years. Aside from a few one-off appearances, the ageing, paunchy fans in the crowd hadn’t seen The Libertines play for a very long time.

The band did them proud with a set that wove old favourites and songs from their recent third album into a tapestry that told the story of their rise and fall.

The best moments came in songs from last year’s Anthems for Doomed Youth, a brutally contemplative record that saw Barat and Doherty address their demons with hard-won wisdom. Flinty resolve and raw feeling poured out from Doherty’s vocals on the confessional Heart of the Matter, and a sigh rose from the mosh pit upon hearing You’re My Waterloo’s twinkly opening play out from a Union Jack-draped piano.

The Libertines in concert - 99PROBS

The Libertines in concert - 99PROBS

The Libertines in concert - 99PROBS

The Libertines in concert - 99PROBS

The Libertines in concert - 99PROBS

A sprint through the best parts of the band’s debut Up the Bracket and their self-titled follow-up was workmanlike, not that you would have known it from the audience’s gleeful response. The caterwauling guitar riffs for which The Libertines are known reverberated throughout the arena. Like at their memorable gig at Brixton Academy in 2004, ears were left ears ringing, hearts pounding.

Doherty bemoaned the fact he couldn’t smoke on stage (“it’s an £8,000 fine if you do”), but some people in the crowd had lit up, helping to transform the O2’s cold atmosphere into that of a far more intimate venue.

There was the odd misgiving. The Libertines noticeably lacked the fraternal affection that had Barat and Doherty wrapped round a mic stand at Glastonbury nine months ago during Can’t Stand Me Now, the tattle-telling single released not long before band’s break-up.

The pair noodled across the stage separately throughout Anthems for Doomed Youth as Barat, voice as taut as a guitar string, sang of the brothers who “half-murdered each other”. Perhaps, as the newly clean Doherty has suggested, some wounds remain open between indie’s most alluring duo.

Doherty picked up an acoustic guitar to play Down in Albion, a song byBabyshambles, his second band. When his bandmates quietly joined him to segue into Music When The Lights Go Out, you could sense the longing for something lost. The Libertines embraced as they left the stage, small figures beneath a photograph from their youth.

99PROBS would like to sincerely thank The Telegraph for the majority of this article.

 

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