The looks on the faces of the sweaty and dishevelled crowd said it all. They had just witnessed something very special. A set from a band some of them probably thought they would never get to see live in the flesh, let alone at a venue as small as the Academy in Bristol. One astonished looking teen – who incredibly had a Domino’s pizza tattoo on his arm – turned to me after the gig and said he had never seen anything like it.
It really was that good. Just over a week after headlining Reading and Leeds Festival in front of thousands, The Libertines returned to doing what they became renowned for in the early 2000s: playing raucous gigs in small, grotty clubs to a few hundred adoring fans. It was in this type of venue where the quartet’s legend was created, before Pete Doherty and Carl Barât’s relationship imploded following the release of their self-titled second LP.
This Bristol show was sold as part of a five-date mini-tour to celebrate the release of new album, Anthems For Doomed Youth – their first in over a decade. In reality, it was just one big celebration of the band for fans that have treasured the two albums and handful of EPs that they left behind. There were a smattering of new tracks, of course, but this was a set firmly concentrated on reliving the good old days.
After entering to their now familiar entrance music, Vera Lynn’s beautifully appropriate We’ll Meet Again, they launched into a blistering version of Horror Show from 2002 début, Up The Bracket. Unsurprisingly, this turned the Bristol Academy dancefloor into something resembling a riot as those brave enough to stand there, shouting along and dancing frantically with desperate efforts to stay upright.
Those hoping to catch their breath had no chance, as the opener was quickly followed by Vertigo – another big fan favourite from Up The Bracket. The pace was relentless during the early stages. The Delaney and Can’t Stand Me Now ensured that the party atmosphere was maintained, as the crowd joined Carl and Pete in singing the latter’s famous back-and-forth chorus.
There was a brief respite during newbie Fame And Fortune – largely because few have heard a recorded version yet – but Time For Heroes soon had everyone singing and dancing like lunatics again. The same sing-a-long treatment greeted Music When The Lights Go Out, as Doherty took the lead on the popular ballad, before Begging (with added Gary Powell drum solo) and What Katie Did had the Academy rocking once more.
With the sweaty crowd well and truly warmed up, Gunga Din – the lead single from The Libertines’ third record – made a welcome appearance, reinforcing its place in the hearts of fans already. The catchy chorus of latest single Heart Of The Matter, which followed chaotic versions of Boys In The Band and The Ha Ha Wall, also went down a storm despite only being released the day before.
Yet as good as the new material sounded, it was the classics such as Death On The Stairs, Tell The King and The Good Old Days that made eyes light up with frenzied excitement. The latter, in particular, closed the main set with a mighty surge. “If you’ve lost your faith in love in music, the end won’t be long,” yelled Doherty, perfectly capturing the sort of fervour that greets The Libertines’ music.
Already stretching the curfew having arrived on stage late, they wasted no time returning for the encore, which started with a live debut for Iceman – despite Doherty admitting that the band had not rehearsed it at all during an earlier attempt to play it in the set. It was followed by the holy trinity of What A Waster, Up The Bracket and Don’t Look Back Into The Sun to conclude a truly astonishing gig.
The Libertines were never meant for huge arenas and open air festivals; they have just happily accepted their newfound position after a 10-year sabbatical. But clubs like the Academy are where they are at home. The Domino’s tattoo lad assured me that he would definitely be getting himself a ‘libertine’ tattoo afterwards and it was not hard to see why. Performances like this are the reason why their fans show such utter devotion.