The longevity of The Libertines was always a bone of contention. Having split up in 2004, both Barât and Doherty moved on to several new bands and solo projects. After a six-year wait there was only a very short-lived reunion. Five years later the impossible happened; a more permanent reunion was in place and album number three, Anthems for Doomed Youth was released. Why was such a reunion possible? The fans had too many unerasable memories of their early material, live shows and antics. Anthems for Doomed Youth was not inflicted with third album syndrome but a sign that this was not a conclusion to the story of the Libertines but just another exciting chapter.
The health of a band and the overall dynamics is linked to a bands ability to be involved with new innovative projects. The Somewhere Festival is one of these projects. Beginning in Japan less than six months ago in April 2019; Somewhere staged unique performances with distinctive staging with a backdrop of their trademark of 1001 candles. With such a quirky, unique and original idea; Somewhere naturally brought performers Phoenix, Friendly Fires, Basement Jaxx and Carl Barât to the table. To launch the first performance outside of Japan, Carl brought Pete to join him at the Hackney Empire, “one of my (Carl’s) favourite venues” and light up the Empire with 1001 candles. Paris, New York, Berlin and Moscow would have to wait their turn.
Support came from Japanese artist Mineta. Mineta’s performance was definitely for his home country as he came out in an oversized white t-shirt bearing his nation’s national flag. Equipped with just an acoustic guitar (and with this literally being his first time in London), Mineta did not excrete any fear, and on his own, boldly sung with a vocal style not dissimilar to Finlay Quaye whilst roaring with tigeresque passion. On his opening song, Mineta’s emphasis on the words “Night Terror” to Freewheelin’ guitar strumming riffs demanded attention. As well as “This Charming Man” melodic falsetto guitar strumming and playing out with the support of a backing track (a hybrid of contemporary Japanese processed beats with an indie daze Inspiral Carpets texture) whilst demonstrating impressive martial arts style backflips.
To intensify the experience and escalate the excitement there were five minute and two-minute countdowns towards Carl and Pete entering the stage adorned with 1001 candles. This got the crowd to stand to attention before the likely lads came out on stage dressed up not in Red Guard military jackets, but in grey three-piece suits. As they cracked jokes about not reading reviews; the duo sounded more like Morecombe and Wise than The Libertines before beginning the first of two sets. The loyalty and dedication of the packed Hackney Empire was felt instantly and continued to raise in altitude with collective word for word recitals of not just lead tracks including “Can’t Stand Me Now”, but for all The Libertines songs as well as Babyshambles, Dirty Pretty Things and the duo’s solo projects too.
The third song saw something more interesting than the Changing of the Guards; additions to the guards. Pete and Carl were joined by a four-piece string orchestra, a four-piece choir, a trumpeter as well as an additional guitarist (all in Red Guard jackets) as Carl took to the piano to perform “You’re My Waterloo”. The Penny Lane inspired trumpets showed an impressive seldom exposed side to the duo.
The second set took a deeper Libertines retrospective than the first beginning with “Time for Heroes”. Pete and Carl also continued to shine as individuals in their own right. For instance, Carl’s solo song “Let it Rain” (not the East 17 song) impressed with its “Half the World Away” charm and warm homeliness of the choir. The poignancy and success of this latter half wasn’t just a retrospective on halcyon days and confirmation of Doherty and Barât as musicians in their own right; it was how the duo stopped the clocks to reflect on their wild origins. Back in 2002, it is almost incomprehensible to envisage “What a Waster” (which featured in The Football Factory soundtrack) taking any different form. The injection of the trumpets gave this Bernard Butler produced classic a Beirut inspired cosmopolitan folk feel to it. Furthermore, innovations (including indirect klezmer) did not deter the formations of mosh pits in the all-seated Hackney Empire when they played “Don’t Look Back into the Sun” with string and trumpet arrangements.
With Carl and Peter having turned forty; change and innovation to the way they approach these gigs was inevitable. Their initial early outlook, philosophy and culture were not only unsustainable but doomed. Changes have resulted in their sound being more tuned and less raw. Peter was neither too thin nor too bloated with alcohol. Whilst neither Peter or Carl are the most intimidating vocalists; their musicianship and innovation will make it perplexing for any other artist to outgun them should they attempt to cover a Libertines, Babyshambles, Dirty Pretty Things, Carl or Peter track.