Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Time For Heroes: The Libertines prove their debut has stood the test of time at Castlefield Bowl

The Libertines are celebrating 20 years of their iconic debut album ‘Up The Bracket’. The record, which paved the way for a number of indie rock acts in the early 2000s (including Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand) as part of the garage rock revival, remains instantly recognisable. 

Its cover art – that of Argentinian riot police in red and orange hues – is super-sized and plastered across the stage. 

Often overshadowed by the fractious relationship between Carl Barat and Peter Doherty (and the latter’s run-ins with the law and prolonged addictions), if there is one takeaway from tonight its that the music speaks for itself. Twenty years after it debuted, the album remains as glorious and anthemic as it did when The Libertines first invited us to board the good ship Albion.

Cambridge pop-rock outfit Sports Team open the show, and are sure to get the crowd going. Their kaleidoscopic beats, and lyrics laden with pop-culture references provide mature audience members with a breath of fresh air and reassurance that indie-rock has plenty of life left in it. They play a handful of hits including ‘Keep Walking!’‘Here’s the Thing’, ‘R Entertainment’, and their latest audacious offering ‘Cool It Kid’. Most shows at Castlefield Bowl have a couple of support acts, but The Libertines only have one. Despite this, Sports Team do themselves justice, packing out the arena before the headliners arrive promptly at 9pm.


Predictably, The Libertines play their ‘Up The Bracket’ album in its entirety and chronologically, as is the case with many anniversary tours. They begin with the tumultuous ‘Vertigo’ before descending into ‘Death on the Stairs’ with its insatiable call-and-response chorus showcasing Doherty and Barat’s unparalleled song-writing partnership and mesmerising stage presence. In typical Libs’ fashion, the duo share one microphone for large chunks of the show, their faces just an inch apart. Its emblematic of their roller-coaster relationship, with the band always on the edge of a split in their heyday. It’s safe to say those days are over now. After two unprecedented reunions (first for an emotional surprise set at Reading 2010, and then in 2014), the band have embarked on countless tours, dropped a third – albeit underappreciated – LP, and are working on its follow-up as we speak.


Often times, the quality and overall atmosphere of outdoor shows depend on the weather, but despite intermittent showers and muddy ground, the audience were undeterred, embracing the festival vibes and boarding the shoulders of their peers to get a better view of the band. The unmistakeable opening riff of ‘Horror Show’ sends audiences into a frenzy whilst the anthemic ‘Time For Heroes’ inspires arms around shoulders and infectious singalongs.


Doherty dons his signature fedora hat and is relatively subdued in a casual suit and t-shirt combo, whilst Barat, dressed in white vest and trousers, and a black bowler hat, is the image of A Clockwork Orange’s Alex DeLarge. Bassist John Hassall, who missed a slew of shows on The Libs’ recent December tour, is back on top form dressed in a sharp black suit – his bowl cut making him appear almost Beatles-esque. Meanwhile, drummer Gary Powell is their complete antithesis in a vibrant lime green tracksuit, throwing everything into his energised drum rolls.


Avid Libertines fans were treated to several deep cuts and demos – ‘Mayday’, ‘Bangkok’, and ‘Plan A’ appear in the encore along with the rarely-played ‘Radio America’ with its nod to this journalist’s hometown of New Brighton! Though the latter brings things down a notch, the raucous atmosphere is soon revived when they erupt into ‘Up The Bracket’. ‘The Boy Looked at Johnny’ and ‘I Get Along’ receive similarly rambunctious responses from the crowd.


When The Libertines return to the stage, it is for an encore encompassing the rest of their greatest hits. ‘What Katie Did’, a song lifted from their self-titled sophomore album, shines as the true highlight of the night as gig-goers board their friends’ shoulders and join in with the “shoop shoop” hook. During ‘Don’t Look Back Into The Sun’ (their final song, obviously), Doherty throws a harmonica into the crowd, which was quickly recovered by an audience member.

20 years on, ‘Up The Bracket’ is anything but stale – it has stood the test of time, not just as one of the greatest British rock albums of the 2000s, but as a true modern masterpiece.


Sarah Taylor


Image: Tour Poster

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