Ever get that feeling of déjà vu? You’d be forgiven for thinking you’d traveled back to 2010 with the Sunday lineup for this year’s Reading Festival. The Cribs and Maccabees both make appearances. One of that year’s finest artists, Jamie T, will also be making an appearance. Then there’s the big one. A reformed The Libertines, at the exact spot, almost five years to the day that they reformed to 80,000 people.
So why bother? It’s a question that seems genuine enough and the answer is pretty simple. Because no band will leave the same impression on you as The Libertines. They are part of a rare breed. A poetic but brutalistic, charming but annihilistic band. They arrived onto an indie scene still suffering the post Britpop hangover. Where Blur, Oasis and Pulp formerly resided were Coldplay and Toploader.
The Libertines brought back a little of that danger and wrapped it up in a gang mentality that consumed all that dared to have a taste of it. Seduced by the charm and wit of Pete Doherty and Carl Barat, alongside a sense of belonging to this elite, you only have to see the amount of people of a certain age with Libertines tattoos; the ultimate sign of being in the gang. The band made entrance to the gang easier than any band had before. Just a simple act as signing up to a forum put you into a word of demos, diaries and secret gigs in all manner of places, including the band’s own homes. Bringing romanticised tales of council estate roughness from Hackey’s finest squats and serving it up with charm and a bleak humour, it felt like the band had accentuated the bleak feeling of many indie fans who had been sleepwalking since Britpop came off its rails.
Playing live, the band’s sheer energy and enthusiasm was hard to ignore, as was the full on bromance between the band’s Morrissey and Marr figures. Barat and Doherty were like you wish you and your best mate were. Putting the world to rights with your guitars. Kicking against the pricks and having a good time while at it.
Even as the darkness came in and heroin famously entered the picture along with the associated pushers, heavies and hanger-ons. The band only seemed to go critically from strength to strength, using these tabloid folktales to extend their own myth in the brutal warts and all lyrics of their second album. Then it all truly went to shit. In through the out door. Except this door was literally and figuratively smashed by Doherty.
Six years of will they/won’t they followed until finally the band announced their appearance at Reading 2010. Forthright from the start about the financial benefits of playing such dates, even then the chemistry between Barat and Doherty was apparent as the band rambled through an acoustic set at the press conference that March, something not even the gathered press expected.
The sets at Reading and Leeds (along with a pair of gigs at London’s Forum) were some of the most anticipated in festival history. 80,000 people all out to see if this most unstable of bands would finally sink of swim. For the long time fans the tattoo ink may have faded a tad, but their sentiments hadn’t.
The band took to the stage and played a ragged but spirited set that did enough to silence the critics without really expanding on their myth.
So when it came to 2014 and yet another reunion so soon after the last. You could be forgiven for being a bit sceptical. But come Hyde Park’s passion and energy (and a pretty tight set by their standards) and Alexandra Palace’s mutual love in and it was apparent the gears were back in order.
So skip forth to 2015. We have a drug free Doherty, who seems at his most energised since 2003 paired up with Barat again to create a new album. Their first in 11 years. Their secret Glastonbury set showed the band are as ramshackle as before but there’s something in them that inspires indie hearts. And that’s their genuine love and passion for the music, the fans and each other.
This year’s Reading & Leeds set will finally see the band get top billing, with the 3rd album providing just enough material to fill that slot. There’s no guarantee that the set will go off hitch free but watching the libs is like being in the eye of a tornado as Barat and Doherty outpour pure emotion and heart on stage. Add to the mix a bunch of new songs that already seem to line-up well with the bands legendary back catalogue and you have the must see set of the weekend.