The Libertines are a band that, for a certain generation, will never be topped. Though often lumped in with a cretinous brand of lad rock, Peter Doherty, Carl Barat, John Hassel and Gary Powell created a heap of songs that not only pounded like punk and garotted like the purest garage rock but also spoke freely, with candour, conscience and creativity. And, before you ask, yes, I am one of the aforementioned generation.
One song that perhaps typifies this combination of intoxicating influences is their landmark single ‘Don’t Look Back Into The Sun’. Released on this day in 2003, the track came readymade for a new cohort of rock and rollers who were bored of Britpop and ready for something entirely different. Dangerous and danceable in equal measure, the song was pumped full of poetic rhetoric, razorblade riffage and the unfathomable presence of ‘cool’. In fact, there’s perhaps only one moment that typifies the band better — when they performed it live.
If you are another member of the previously mentioned generation, the one who bought trilbys, ordered rosary beads and donned your nearest leather bomber without the slightest hint of irony, then the guerilla gigging, chest-cutting, panic-inducing brilliance of a Libertines live show will be nothing new.
If, however, you’re a little newer to the group or, paradoxically, believe the band to be centre on the tabloid nonsense of their latter moments, then let us introduce you to the real Libertines.
Shot in 2003, this fire-breathing performance from the band is the perfect distillation of what made them the kind of band who changed pop culture forever. Recorded at one of their native haunts, the Camden Barfly, the group deliver a ramshackle and romantic rendition of their newly-released hit. If you’re looking for perfectly played notes and expert vocals, then we suggest you keep walking. That’s not what The Libertines were ever about.
Of course, by this point, the band had released their debut album Up The Bracket and already garnered the attention of the newly resurgent music press. It meant that this gig, like every gig they put on, was full to the rafters of sweating, swearing and swinging punters.
The footage shows that the crowd mirrors similar audiences up and down the band’s country. They are not only there to have a good time but to show their devotion to their newly found cult leaders. Doherty leads the track but does so with the vagrant charm of an 18th-century French poet, Barat, meanwhile, dons his finest punk rock snarl and lets loose, all as the audience reaches fever pitch. Like most Libertines shows, the band end up in the crowd, connecting physically to confirm their previous emotional and spiritual bridges.
If you happened to be at a Libertines show in the early days of the band or, like me, was just swept up in the hysteria of a new rock and roll group who seemed capable of transforming the world around them, then hearing ‘Don’t Look Back Into The Sun’ on the radio will likely provide a ream of goosebumps, the odd tear and a comforting smile.
If you want all three at once, watch The Libertines perform the song below from back in 2003.