For their last gig of the year, The Libertines came back to their adopted hometown of Margate to finish off their latest tour. For a band that have had many ups and downs, an extended hiatus and produced just three studio albums to date, it seems slightly odd that as we approach a new decade The Libertines will, in 2020, look forward to playing together in their fourth. As the dysfunctional bad-boys of post-punk indie rock cling together through an ever closer bond rather than a thin thread these days it seems only fitting that the London foursome bring their sharabang of a show to the seaside town that, for Pete at least, seems to have calmed the troubled spirit.
On the shortest day and therefore longest night of the year, Pete, Carl, Gary and John braved the gales and made the trip to once again take to the stage of The Winter Gardens in Margate. All four looked like they were happy and healthy with Pete sporting a new shorter haircut and embracing his ever greyer 'highlights'. Before the headliners took to the stage we had a surprise slot from Pynch, a band fronted by former Winter Gardens pot-wash Spencer Enock and another from a rejuvenated Towers of London. The former may have been slightly timid and apologetic during their set but played some great songs that should have at the very least generated some curiosity from the sold-out crowd. 'Twenties Haze', a song about having no money, 'The City', and latest single 'Disco Lights' entertained the gathering crowd before Towers of London tried their best to wind them up!
Towers, themselves familiar with the extended hiatus having broken up acrimoniously in 2009, took to the stage in a fired up rage, ready to do their worst. The boiler suited quintet, fronted by reality TV star Donny Tourette in his faux fur coat, set about their set like men who'd just read the 'How To' guide to being a cliched rock star. The band snarled and spat their way through their songs, including 'I'm A Rat' and 'F**k It Up'; at one point taking exception to having a pint thrown over the bassist mid-song! It was comical stuff that provided a degree of entertainment if not for all the intended reasons.
The Libertines book-ended their set with an introduction and sign-off from Vera Lynn. They entered to 'The White Cliffs Of Dover' and were played off to 'We'll Meet Again'. It's questionable as to whether The Libertines will ever be regarded as national treasures but it's safe to say that public opinions do seem to have warmed to the band over each year. With three albums and a string of singles to their name after twenty-odd years, they could be accused of 'flogging a dead horse'; this is, after all, ostensibly the same live show they've been putting on for years. That argument falls down when they continue to sell out every show they play, and when you witness the enthusiasm and passion that flows both ways between the audience and the band.
From the opening chords of 'The Delaney' to the epic finale of 'I Get Along', there is little respite. There are brief beautiful lulls as the piano ushers in 'You're My Waterloo' and when the mood is calmed for 'Dead For Love' but otherwise The Libertines performance is a driven set of indie anthems that showcase an incredible, if far too (so far) limited number of brilliantly captured songs. Pete and Carl are not in loquacious moods tonight, unlike the last time when I saw them close out the festival season at Wheels & Fins just down the road in Broadstairs; that night you couldn't shut them up or pull them apart.
The music of The Libertines may have lived longer than many expected and it is that, coupled with the attraction of the sometimes volatile partnership of Pete and Carl, that keeps their adoring public coming back for more. The pull of the rogue, the charm a dandy, the glint in the eye of a cad and a charismatic frontman continue to be irresistible to the devoted and the curious. Carl and Pete are magnetic in their own right but put them together and they are most definitely more than the sum of their parts. The musical 'sparring' between the two is incredible; the interplay between the guitar and vocal sequences is a joy to watch.
The power and intensity of 'Horror Show' is deftly delivered, the build and break of the tongue-in-cheek 'Boys In The Band' is, to this day, as arresting and the impassioned immediacy of 'The Ha Ha Wall' equally as effective. You can still feel the fight lived through 'Can't Stand Me Now' as Gary holds a perfect beat and you cannot fault the songwriting prowess on the equally autobiographical 'What Became Of The Likely Lads'. The audience may have grown older, greyer and sweatier quicker, but the songs have lost none of their edge, their quality or their potency.
There were, sadly, given the news that the boys are working on a fourth album, no new songs. The 'newer' ones, however, continue to embed themselves still further into The Libertines' fabric. The sing-a-long epic that is 'Barbarians', the theatrical story of 'Fame And Fortune' and the reggae infused 'Gunga Din' are now firm favourites that stand alongside 'The Last Post On The Bugle' and 'Death On The Stairs'. The Libertines know how to work their audience into a frenzy, how to tether that passion and how to ignite and inspire it. Through a two-hour set and nearly two dozen songs, The Libertines held a packed out Winter Gardens enthralled throughout. They closed out the main set with a sympathetic run through of 'Time For Heroes' and then capped the night off with a six-track encore that of course included 'Don't Look Back Into The Sun', 'What Katie Did' and finally a riotous 'I Get Along'.
The boys in the band gathered together to take a well-earned bow before departing the Winter Gardens stage as they headed home and headed into their next decade together, a concept that may seemed quite extraordinary to most at any point over the last twenty-three years! Happy New Year!