Indie icons The Libertines round off a weekend of intimate gigs in their adopted hometown as they road test tracks from forthcoming new album All Quiet On the Eastern Esplanade.
Of all the bands you’d want as neighbours, The Libertines would probably be way down most people’s list. Lest we forget: one of Pete Doherty’s numerous prison stretches was for burgling the flat of his own bandmate, Carl Barat. Their squat gigs and all-night partying are the stuff of legend (and, latterly, Channel 4 crime documentaries). They probably won’t remember to put the bins out for you when you’re on holiday.
But if the notion of the noughties’ most infamous indie caners moving in next door sounds like little more than the amazing episode of Location, Location, Location they’ll never make, spare a thought for many of the crowd at last night’s sweatbox show. They’ve been real life extras in the Libs soap opera since 2017, when the band moved to Margate in search of security, stability and absolutely massive fry-ups.
Cliftonville Neighbourhood Watch needn’t have worried though. Carl – the band’s only semi-permanent Margate resident these days – is such a pillar of the community he switched on the Christmas lights alongside the mayor the other day. And even Phil’n’Kirsty would approve of the way they’ve transformed a tumbledown terrace into a boutique hotel.
The Albion Rooms already has a five-star TripAdvisor rating and the prices to match – you can spend upwards of £300 a night for a room with a view. Admittedly, that view is of some of the most impoverished households in the country being turfed out one-by-one to make way for bougie Airbnbs – but that’s gentrification for you.
And besides, if you can’t afford to stay in the hotel – or rent a flat, or buy a bagel nearby – you can at least console yourself by listening to the new album The Libs recorded in its studio, All Quiet On The Eastern Esplanade, when it’s out next March.
Which brings us back round to why we’re beside the seaside tonight, as the band conclude a weekend of intimate shows across the Lido, Albion Rooms and sister club Justine’s that’ve seen them unveil more than half a dozen of those new songs.
There’s some element of what they call in the hospitality trade ‘managing expectations’ on that front, though. Everyone’s clear on what they’re getting: a spit’n’sawdust show for £20 from a band going back to basics after playing arenas last year.
The fact the 250-capacity venue is pure Phoenix Nights and the amps sound like they’re wired through the sewage pipe belching out into the sea below matters little; the mood and the moment matter more than musical perfection.
“This is the premiere of our new song ‘Mustang’,” grins Pete, before underlining the work-in-progress vibe: “Last night’s gig doesn’t count, we played it too fast.” Given the lengthy chat he has with Carl at its messy conclusion, they clearly still haven’t quite nailed it.
Other newbies fare better though. ‘Run, Run, Run’ is already a Libs classic, combining their signature calling cards – warts’n’all lyrics, 100 mph garage-rock riffs, a great shoutalong chorus – into the catchiest song they’ve produced in 20 years. Meanwhile, ‘Night Of The Hunter’ is such a majestic spaghetti western ballad it requires an extra pair of hands. Perhaps conscious of spiralling overheads for hoteliers, the band cannily bring on tour manager Andy Newlove to play guitar rather than buy a train ticket for eternal Libs/Babyshambles super-sub Drew McConnell.
Fellow newbies ‘Oh Shit’ and ‘Man With The Melody’ are met with muted crowd responses, not least because the latter underlines that when it comes to singing drummers, Gary Powell is no Phil Collins. In fairness, it’s difficult for fans to properly react to songs they’ve never heard before – and their patience is rewarded when the band smash out the classics. ‘Don’t Look Back Into The Sun’, ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’ and ‘Death On The Stairs’ inevitably spark the wildest scenes but it’s ‘Gunga Din’ that’s the most impressive, its louche ska grooves underlining that Pete’n’Carl are far better guitar players than their haphazard clanging would have you sometimes believe.
Once co-frontmen, their roles feel more hierarchical these days, Carl increasingly taking centre stage. In an already infamous recent interview with Louis Theroux, Pete admitted that although finally clean, his health is faltering – and sadly it’s starting to show a little onstage. Whilst Carl still attacks his guitar with all the vim and vigour of 20 years ago on ‘The Good Old Days’ and pirouettes with the mic on ‘What Katie Did’, Pete is more peripheral unless he’s wisecracking between songs or leading the delirious throng through a “walking in a Margate wonderland” chant as the band exit the stage.
Ultimately, it’s all part of a broader evolution for the likely lads: escaping their demons, becoming pillars of the community and finishing gigs at 7.30 in the evening, rather than the morning.
You know what, maybe they wouldn’t make such bad neighbours after all…