By the time Metro Riots take the stage for the fifth leg of Carling Live 24, the hardcore indie faithful have been on the go for 16 hours. They’re looking remarkably well on it, though, apart from the bloke next to me who falls asleep on his feet and nearly knocks me over. Twice.
Which makes it good job that there are plenty of noisy guitars on hand to keep us awake, though in all honesty neither of the support bands really belong outside of N1; they’re just average Camden pub bands who’ve listened to a few Libertines albums and can play by the rules.
And sadly, oh so desperately sadly, so are the main event.
It would have been so nice to be able to say Dirty Pretty Things were fabulous. To say Carl, Gary, Anthony and Didz blew the audience away, put the ghosts of the past behind them and played a blinding set so good, so utterly superb that there was no need to refer to the baggage they bring with them. To say they stood on their own two feet. But they didn’t. They just didn’t sparkle. There was something missing, and it wasn’t just Pete Doherty. Or his lyrics, or his licks (which were always incredible, which never let us down, even when he couldn’t manage to face in the right direction). It was something much more fundamental, that je ne sais qois that makes a band special. Dirty Pretty Things just don’t have it.
They’re trying hard enough. They open with new material, giving us Deadwood just two songs in and following straight on with current single Bang Bang You’re Dead. There are plenty of others that are all their own too, most of which are slowly becoming familiar – The Enemy, with its dark tales of creeping depression; You Fucking Love It, which should be as anthemic as that Babyshambles track with a similar BBC-baiting word in its title – but they’re not the ones that spark.
“This is for the ones down the front,” Carl announces, six songs in, as he launches into the Libertines classic Death On The Stairs, but it’s not just for the ones at the front – it’s for everyone, the first song of the set that has really got the crowd going. And this is symptomatic of the problem: DPT have some catchy hooks, and relocating to Muswell Hill has definitely resulted in some added Kinks to their guitar riffs. But they’re at their best when Didz Hammond is sharing the mic duties, shouting back replies to Carl’s motormouth delivery, or when they’re playing Libertines covers.
And they’re not the Libertines. They never will be, and maybe they’re trying so hard to leave all that behind that Carl’s losing sight of what he’s really good at: playing off against a partner, an equal who can share his spotlight and fire his passion. Because he does have passion: remember the sheer vitriol with which he spat out What A Waster at Glastonbury 2003? Here, now, he just seems tired.
The encore says it all: Two thirds of it are Libertines songs: France, doomed forever to be the bookend of their recorded career, and I Get Along, sitting either side of a Dirty Pretty Things song I can’t put a name to (even though I’ve been collecting their bootlegs since Bologna) and a harmonica-accompanied National Anthem, with help from Metro Riots, that should take us all back to Albion, but instead seems desperate and out of place, leaving the crowd bemused.
Pete’s long past the stage where he needs to rely on Libertines songs to make a statement at his concerts and by now, Carl should be too. Unfortunately, what Dirty Pretty Things have to offer comes a poor second. And I really wish it didn’t.