With a healthy serving of humble pie, it’s probably time The Libertines received an extended apology from one rather cynical ex-lover of theirs: yours truly.
In recent years, my patience has well and truly run out watching the circus-like reunions and the will-they-won’t-they breakups of rock and roll’s most famous platonic lovers. I was there a month ago to see The Libertines slurring and fumbling their way through their main support slot at Glastonbury and in truth, I believed them to be finished as a headline band. It’s with a mixture of relief and euphoria, therefore, that tonight we witness a commanding reminder of all that was sensational, all that is captivating, and all that will always be endearing about the original heroes of reckless, youthful dreams from a bygone era. In a set lasting around two hours, the old captains of the ship of Albion set sail once more to prove there is life in the old dog yet.
It’s a set that plays things relatively safe - only Gunga Din, Anthems from Doomed Youth and Fame and Fortune feature from upcoming album Anthems for Doomed Youth - but quite frankly, with the inclusion of fan-favourites such as Good Old Days, Don’t Look Back into the Sun and Tell the King, nobody really cares. There is always a sense with The Libertines that they are damned if they do and damned if they don't, but tonight they break free of the shackles to once again stand on their own two feet. It's a refreshing sight.
Racing through memories of old, the huge Reading crowd are blown away by set opener Horrorshow, before Carl Barat steps out from the shadows to lead us through a breathless rendition of Vertigo. Soon after come the cavalry of The Delaney, Can’t Stand Me Now and Campaign of Hate at a frightening pace. They ooze life and omit extreme confidence, with drummer Gary Powell acting as the unwavering metronome that together with bassist John Hassal, smooth out the rougher Barat/Doherty-based edges. It is the most human and real I can remember seeing them in a very, very long time as they offer a touch of sparkle through the medium of their brilliant past.
It wouldn’t be a Libertines gig without the heart-warming image of brothers-in-arms Barat and Doherty brushing lips at a shared microphone during What Katie Did (and every other given opportunity, mind you) and as the night draws towards a close, there seems to be a real appreciation on the part of The Libertines for what they are witnessing. After a brief intermitance, the band return for a 3 song encore that includes furious hits such as What a Waster and I Get Along. They depart not with the prospect of newspaper headlines debating their sobriety, but instead a surrean sense of calm. Tonight, after an agonisingly long wait, they finally deliver again on the big stage.
Gary Powell provides a parting gift to the Reading crowd before they bow and exit, telling the crowd 'Don't forget you are all Libertines', and with this, I take with me something far greater than I had ever planned at the start of the evening.