The Libertines

Virgin Money Unity Arena, Newcastle, 29 August 2020

Words and Photos by Gary Lambert

DSC_8015-2Yes, we all know the socially-distant gigs at Newcastle’s makeshift arena at Gosforth Park  aren’t the most visceral of prospects, and it is very easy to offer criticism of them as corporate blandness masquerading as a music festival, but walking up through the park as strangers sneaked behind bushes to piss together, as people slowed their walks to gulp down the last of their travelling cans, and mud coated my Dr Martens at the busiest points I felt pretty much back in the old routine.  It was the first time in 2020 that I felt like we were in summer despite the slight chill coming off the North Sea winds.  And I don’t think I was the only one.  Three hours before The Libertines were due on stage yet people were obviously excited for the sell-out show (demand was so high they even put on a matinee set) that you could the spring in their step.

The Snuts, who are about two summers from being top of the bill on the big stages sounded fantastic.   With their cover of Lovin’ Spoonful’s Summer in the City being one of the soundtracks of 2020 due to The Snuts’ Strongbow advert’s omnipresence whilst we’re all trapped in watching TV most of the time, they even got that buzz in the crowd of people there for a headliner latching on to a favoured song.  Glasgow and Fatboy Slim were big numbers in their own right, and with The Snuts sounding smoother than I’ve heard them live before, the orange sunset looked as though it was being painted by guitar.

DSC_7993In a crazy year, the idea of The Libertines doing two shows in one day was probably pushing it, so I prepared myself for the inevitable cancellation.  But 2020 is mad as fuck and The Boys in the Band took to the stage band on time, and with the focus being more on the performance than creating physical electricity between players and audience they captured the sound that two generations of fans have fallen in love with.  And from the photo pit for the first three songs I was torn in two between the fan who wanted to sing along with tracks from behind my mask and my camera, close to the four-piece I’ve always wanted to see (I’d never been to see The Libertines when Pete had been able to play) and the serious music journalist wishing to analyse the moment.  The music fan won and I couldn’t tell you what they sang, except I knew every word and was supremely happy.

With little interaction between crowd and fans, it was only when Pete was asked about his shaggy hairdo (he looked like an indie Robert Smith) that they first spoke to the audience.  “It was either rehearse or get my hair done… Times have changed” was his response before they kicked into Heart of The Matter.  Despite their third album, Anthems for Doomed Youth, being the least loved of their releases, undoubtedly Dead For Love was one of the highlights of the night. Magnificently crafted throughout, it took on a grand stance as Carl finished the track playing on keys with harmonies coming from Gary, John and Pete.  That finale had been openly debated by Pete and Carl before they started to the song (apparently they hadn’t finished like that at the early show – the evening show won on that front).  This mature, controlled version of The Libs provided a great contrast with the raucous energy of the past with Death on DSC_7982The Stairs and Last Post on The Bugle sounding far less chaotic than I’m used to.  But in these spacious surroundings it felt right.  There is a lot of responsibility on the acts here as they get relatively little feedback from the audience so you’re not going to get that pulsating benevolent violence that makes a festival mosh pit the best place on earth until you grow out of it.  The payoff though is that you hear and feel the lyrics as they were meant when first put to paper or sung in a rehearsal room.

Starting off the “encore” with mass singalong of Happy Birthday for their Tour Manager, Andy Newlove who was turning 50, the four-piece fired out a series of fan favourites for the last thirty minutes.  Whilst I do love the band, I’m not a zealot for The Libertines, but they do seem to have a greater ratio of great songs versus total songs released than most bands out there, there were more wow moments than a band with only three albums should have.  Songs like Don’t Look Back Into The Sun, Music When The Lights Go Out and I Get Along gave the big singalong happenings that I’ve craved from April onwards.  It was just beautiful.  Even dancing at a socially-acceptable-social-distance is beautiful when The Libertines are soundtracking it.

I might have only been up in Newcastle for one day, but for the first time since 2019, it was summer again.

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    Popped Music has been going since Feb 2010.

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