The Libertines at Wembley Arena review | A nostalgic sense of occasion

The Libertines roll back the years at Wembley Arena to mark two decades since the release of their debut album, Up the Bracket – with flames, football chants and, surprisingly, Jamie T.

The Libertines new album band


On a night geared around the celebration of an album, much of which has soundtracked a laddish kind of revelry in recent British history, the opening three acts before The Libertines’ full showing were an ode to indie.

Louis Dunford – praised by Pete Doherty as “a brilliant songwriter” by the end of the night (something he won’t forget in a hurry) – was a first reminder, though, that we needn’t simply look back, but that plenty of talent still lives among the current crop of emerging acts. His tune ‘The Angel’, which has become a hit among Arsenal fans (something I admit, even as a Spurs fan), was a particular crowd-pleaser.

But Dunford’s performance felt like one of those occasions that will mean more to him than anyone else – which isn’t an entirely terrible thing. The Paddingtons and The Cribs were unsurprisingly far more meaty in their line-up and delivery.

The Libertines

Hull’s The Paddingtons had in fact ridden a wave of indie rock, which Up the Bracket had helped ignite, so it was a lightly touching full-circle moment to see them bashing around onstage. They took some time, it seemed, to ease into their performance, but once their nihilistic head-basher ‘What’s The Point In Anything New’ was played, their musicality was able to shine.

The Cribs, from Wakefield – which consists of the Jarman brothers Gary, Ryan and Ross – have an even tighter association with The Libertines. In fact, they’re also reissuing some of their early work (their first three albums The Cribs, The New Fellas and Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever). They rattled through a succession of scream-alongs, including ‘Men’s Needs’ and ‘Hey Scenesters!’ with aplomb.

In their own individual ways, these three set the scene for a true celebration of days gone by, embodied by Up the Bracket – the interludes between them soundtracked by yet more indie bangers from DJ Amazonica.

Then came the likely lads. Carl Barât in white, Doherty in black, Gary Powell in green and John Hassell, despite the country still reeling from the hottest temperatures on record, donning a suit and tie.

Given the chronological running of the album, a standard procedure due to the very purpose of the show, there wasn’t a great deal of surprises for the first 12 tunes – that sense of the unexpected was best kept till the end. The theatrics was therefore a key part in keeping things lively.

The flaming start, thanks to the flame-wielding pyrotechnics of the dancing troupe, before the bashful album opener ‘Vertigo’ was one such party trick. The fake police attacking Doherty and Barât onstage before ‘Horror Show’ was another, albeit a slightly more odd, performative one, obviously harking back to the lad’s post-punk revival roots.

The album’s titular track, fan favourite ‘Time For Heroes’ and great big singalong ‘The Boy Look at Johnny’, with its “La de di / la de di da” reprise, were particularly enjoyable, the centre of the crowd expanding and contracting with those wanting to enjoy a bit of push-and-shove.

Footage of the band in their younger years played in the background, adding to the sense of nostalgia. A light interlude made you wonder if that was it. Yet of course it wouldn’t be. Back they came, playing some of the hits along with tracks from Anthems for Doomed Youth – an album which seemed nigh-impossible at one stage, reminding us to cherish such an occasion, which was far from guaranteed.

Barât took to the piano for ‘You’re My Waterloo’, whilst one of the police (remember them?) took over his guitar. ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’ could have closed proceedings, but just when you thought there was nothing more, the band welcomed Mr. Jamie T, fresh off the back from the release of his fifth studio album, The Theory of Whatever.

There wasn’t much in the way of singing from Mr. T, but this was all about one act in truth. Merely his presence was a gift. By the end, The Libertines’ group hug, and jumping on the spot, showed just what it meant to them, whilst Powell lobbing his drumsticks into the crowd ensured this was a night to remember for at least those who caught them. As indeed, it was for a lot of us.

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