After a two-month delay in the shows as a consequence of COVID-19 shielding, the Libertines finally continue their Giddy Up A Ding-Dong tour, playing the O2 Academy Sheffield 22nd February.
Twenty years after its release, tracks from Up the Bracket still worm their way into every late-night indie disco, provoking a drunken sing-along amongst young fans who probably don’t remember its initial release. The attitudinal echo of brit-pop that lingers throughout the album offers a nostalgic nudge to our indie-teen days, continuously assisting the path of coming of age for each generation. Though the album still holds itself strong, how does it bode when performed live two decades later?..
After support from Vonna Vella and Dead Freights the academy falls with darkness, sharply interrupted with the groove of Kool and the Gang’s Jungle Boogie. The stage blares with white lights revealing ‘the Libertines’ in its signature font shortly followed by the band themselves. Sporting a Georgia bulldogs t-shirt and a flat cap, Pete leads the lads onto the stage, followed by Barat in his signature black leather jacket.
The excitement of the crowd, though diverse, is electric. A sea of adidas and bucket hats, coked-up dads, old-school fans, late-teens, and Stone Island jumpers roar to the opening riff of What a Waster, forcing plastic cups of warm beer flying above the crowd. Adoringly sharing the mic, Doherty and Barat display their notorious chemistry from the off, effortlessly strutting around the stage as if it’s a choreographed routine.
Maintaining the stamina with the Ha Ha Wall, into Up the Bracket where Doherty proudly spouts ‘these crooked fingers’ as he flags off the crowd, the enthusiasm of the rowdy audience is still fresh and eager for the bangers to follow. Continuing with 2015 hit Gunga Din, the sharpness of Barat’s lead guitar riff pierces through the academy, igniting a syncopating chanting amongst the crowd, paradoxically conflicting with the raw nature of the telling track.
The setlist of the night was arranged with particularly admirable logic with the fans very much in mind, inserting notorious crowd-pleasers in every one or two tracks. After acknowledging the city, What Katie Did and You’re My Waterloo are played back-to-back, allowing the bouncing bodies a tactical rest whilst they tire their lungs harmonising together instead. All eyes are on Barat as he struts around the stage with microphone in hand, appearing to reside within his own world as the lyrics fluently weave their way around the venue.
Something that has always been entirely apparent throughout the band’s career is the palpable bond between them which appears to have strengthened continuously over time.
Numerous times throughout the night, the band convene at Powel’s elevated drum set, strutting in syncopation and reading one another’s cues almost telepathically. From swirling around one another to spouting their harmonies cheek-to-cheek in the same microphone, the reverence on the stage is obvious and seeps into the crowd as the venue elates with energy and adoration.
Hassall starts a strong chug on bass and the audience anticipates the commencement of Can’t Stand Me Now, a real cult classic which again encourages the spin of plastic cups and an air of vibrant unruliness. Thickened with three-way harmonies and forceful beats, the appearance of Doherty’s harmonica ignites a raucous praise before bodies scramble to grab it after it’s thrown into the crowd. Music When the Lights Go Out follows shortly after and sparks a swift sentimental pull within the venue, with voices singing the same lyrics from varied perspectives. From slurred mimics of the slide of Barat’s guitar to the echoes of Doherty’s profound vocals, the venue is thick with a resonant air of lucidity.
After a twenty-one-song set, the Libs close with Don’t Look Back into the Sun and Time for Heroes, giving us one last opportunity to bleed the last of our energy levels dry. Though the crowd is disorderly and rough, elements of safeness, familiarity and comfort can be felt within the nostalgia glowing from the four lads spinning around, performing their hearts out before us. The crowd throw themselves into one another to the same lyrics and the same chords whilst feeling something completely unique inside, showing the unruly power of the Libertines is not going anywhere just yet.
Though it can typically be said that a band is only as good as their sound engineer (one of whom displayed an incredible talent regardless), the lads did not miss a note, a beat, or a single adlib throughout the entire set. Reciprocating the energy radiating from the crowd, the passion that was pushed throughout the set drove a newfound sense of pride and lust towards their craft, inspiring old favourites to pack the punch of a fresh new hit. Twenty years on, the Libertines stand to be as relevant as they ever were, continuing to assist the plight of the youth’s coming-of-age unrest and romanticised tribulations, to retelling the older generation stories of the good old days. And indeed, twenty years on, they are back and truly, humbly, better than ever.