Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

The Libertines - British Summer Time at Hyde Park, London 05/07/14

10 July 2014, 13:43 | Written by Joe Daniels

The Libertines occupy a strange space in British music. For some they represent that clichéd ‘musical marijuana’ – the band that got people into other bands – and for others they exist as a bunch of derivative pretenders propped up by a media cloying for an answer to The Strokes. Counting myself amongst the former, the chance to see a band I went nuts for at 15 was too difficult to pass up.

And so I plodded along – bringing my best mate who also liked The Libertines a lot at 15 and hasn’t so much since – to Hyde Park on an intermittently rainy Saturday afternoon.

One thing we were both affronted by on arrival was the sheer organised-ness of the whole event, perhaps unsurprising given it is a part of the Barclaycard Presents British Summer Time Hyde Park series. Once acclimatised to price-based segregation and general corporatisation of the whole thing, it wasn’t long before the Libertines took the stage. After a brief VT in which highlights from the glory days reminded everyone of the convivial geist they once exuded, Pete Doherty and Carl Barat strode onto the stage like returning conquistadors. Heck, Carl even donned the blood-red military jacket he was last seen prancing around in for the “Don’t Look Back into the Sun” video. What followed was a raucous, shambolic, and utterly fun affair – a celebration of their fuzzy strumming and loftily (and naffly) romantic lyricism.

First up was “Vertigo” which set the (very low) tone nicely. Second was “Boys in the Band”, a song that took about fifteen minutes to get through owing to crowd surges. It was a moment of perverse aptness – seeing a crowd go berserk to a chorus of “They all get them out/For the boys in the band”. The pause in proceedings also allowed Doherty the time to display his urchin charm, leading the crowd into stripped-down renditions of “Seven Nation Army” and the Foundations’ “Build Me Up Buttercup”. It was this sense of combustibility that endeared the Libertines to me and my mate so long ago, and it was pretty comforting to see that it wasn’t engulfed by the enormity of the venue.

A one-two punch of “The Delaney” and “Campaign of Hate” did well to reinvigorate the mood after the stoppage, but then during “Time For Heroes”, things were once again brought to a halt as more fans were pushed up against the barriers. With the band visibly annoyed, I too found my frustration growing, though not with the over-excitable fans at the front, but rather with the aforementioned segregation of the crowd – it’s important to note that the crowd surges only happened in the “General Admission” area. The idea of charging people more for a better view doesn’t sit right when the result is a show littered with interruptions as people at the front of one section are continuously crushed against the barriers. Surely the system used at festivals with a barrier towards the front that anyone get in front if they are prompt enough to would suffice here?

After another restart, the gig then began to resemble a more typical stadium-sized show, albeit with the weird bohemian swagger the Libs bring. “Horrorshow”, “Can’t Stand Me Now”, and “What A Waster” saw Pete and Carl trading lyrics with the mic-sharing bonhomie we’ve all grown nostalgic for. “What Katie Did” and “Music When the Lights Go Out” provided a moment to wag a lighter around for a bit. “Up the Bracket” reminded everyone that Vallance Road was a whole lot shadier ten years ago.

The biggest cheer of the night was reserved for “Don’t Look Back Into the Sun”, a summery rattlesnake of a track that is perfectly primed for a set as raucously unhinged as this. Sure the whole show is an ugly Barclaycard-branded cash-grab, but the crowd interruptions, nonsensical stage banter (Doherty at one point tells a bonkers story about driving a caravan backstage), and thumping hooks just boil down to a bunch of kids having a whole lot of fun.

The set winds down in a fitting fashion, with a performance of “France”, the Carl-sung hidden track from their self-titled sophomore LP. With another interruption from the crowd – this time the fault of over-excited pillocks thinking the sound delay towers would offer a good vantage point – Carl sulked off the stage, leaving Pete alone in front of a big screen now emblazoned with the phrase “Don’t climb the delays”. Pete’s response to his bandmate’s sudden absence mid-track? To start playing Babyshambles anthem “Albion” of course. It’s another oddly serene moment, and one that coaxes Carl back onto the stage to join in.

With the delay towers evacuated, all that was left to do was rattle through one last barnstormer, “I Get Along”. It was, as you might expect, frantic, noisy, and completely joyous, ensuring that every last iota of energy was wrung out of the crowd.

The band then soaked up the applause, linking arms and taking a bow as Pete (somewhat successfully) tried to instigate a mass singalong of the Hokey Cokey. Again, it’s this puckishness that makes the Libertines so engaging; despite all the pomp of the occasion, they still seem to be having a laugh. So much so that as one final send-off, Pete and Carl trade lines in a recital of Seigfried Sassoon’s “Suicide in the Trenches”. I’m not sure I have any idea why, but I don’t really need one. If I was playing to 60,000 people, I think I’d consider the right to recite whatever I want quite fairly earned. And hell, if the Libertines can’t indulge in some literary masturbation, then who can?

It’s a shame that the whiff of bottom-lined cynicism tempered what was otherwise a glorious and spontaneous run-down of ramshackle indie rock, but then it’s also rather fitting. After all, isn’t it this very juxtaposition – the excitement of blindly venturing headfirst into music, and the cynicism of modern sensibilities (from derivative musicians, to tiered ticketing) – that the Libertines are supposedly all about?

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