We all have those friends who you can not see for years and years, seemingly drifting away from one another, only to instantly reconnect, allowing your lives to snugly fit together once more, like long-lost Lego bricks. Well, at Wembley Arena, I had a chance to meet three of them, as indie heroes The Paddingtons, The Cribs and The Libertines shaped up to deliver a powerhouse reminder of just how fun it can be to let go of perception and move your feet.
When The Libertines announced their new tour to celebrate 20 years of their debut album Up The Bracket, a noise could be heard across the land. At first, a low rumble of sheer disbelief that this landmark album could already be in its second decade on the planet barrelled through the streets of Britain. Then, a gentle rustle of leather jackets and trilbys being finessed to their jauntiest of angles. It was a tour that seemed set to confirm The Libertines as legends once and for all.
Amazonica on the decks was a genuine joy across all of those dreaded empty stage spaces — spinning tunes that could make your grandmother shimmy her hips and leave a whole dancefloor shaking. Louis Dunford admirably took on the opening slot, getting what one would assume to be only his first chance to play Wembley Arena and delivering a compact set that showed a promising act with bags of potential. As Dunford departed and the arena began to fill with a little more gusto, the first set of indie darlings entered the stage.
Hull’s finest, The Paddingtons, rode in on the wave caused by The Libertines meteorite smashing down in 2002. Gritty and snarling, flecked with the ideals of punk that seemed ingrained in the earliest flame of the indie scene. Songs like ’50 to a Pound’ and ‘Some Old Girl’ ensured the band were counted among Britain’s young hopefuls, and while they never reached the heights perhaps were expected of them, The Paddingtons can still put on a show, and their rendition of ‘Panic Attack’ produced goosebumps on demand.
It was then the turn of the Brothers Jarman, Gary, Ryan and Ross as The Cribs to give everyone a hefty shot of energy in the arm. Few bands can match the Wakefield group when it comes to live energy, and while there is a little less lager-throwing these days, the raw passion of the band for their work and their audience still shines through—playing iconic tracks from across their impressive discography, with ‘Men’s Needs’, ‘Hey Scenesters’ and ‘Another Number’ landing particularly heavy blows. The band rattled the entire audience, turning what was a steadily swirling sea of sweaty bodies into a tsunami of twisted limbs and stretched vocal cords.
As last-minute dashes to the bar were being completed, there was a sense of electricity in the air that only comes from achieving that most ethereal of things; ‘a moment’. The Libertines, comprised of Gary Powell, John Hassall and the duelling duo of Pete Doherty and Carl Barat, took to the stage with a humble wave and a pleasing smile. For a long time, there was a sense that The Libertines may never have reached this stage.
Despite being close friends at all times, the band have spent many years on the rocks. But when they released their magnetic debut Up The Bracket in 2002, they arrived as a chaotic breath of fresh air, delivering a new vision of the Britpop world. Drenched in punk, their skiffle sound harkened back to the glory days of Britain and gave a new generation something to get excited about. Produced by Mick Jones, the LP contained the essence of what made the group so exciting.
The frenetic energy of ‘Vertigo’, the swaggering charm of ‘Boys in the Band’, the unrivalled ruthless power of ‘I Get Along’, the effortless cool of ‘Time For Heroes’ and the potent joy of the title track, all showcased a band built in London and shaped by a new world. It made their homecoming at a pulsating Wembley Arena all the more special.
To celebrate 20 years of a single album is a bittersweet pill to swallow. Of course, being able to tour on the back of a record means that the LP is still in the hearts and minds of your audience and that it is actually worth celebrating. But it also holds the sadness of time passing — the images shone behind your performance are yellowing by the day. But here, during this moment, The Libertines showed that this was a time for friends, a time for everyone in the audience to lose their minds for 90 minutes and maybe even time for a hero or two. It was one of the group’s tightest sets that I have witnessed, with a suggestion that musically, they may well be honing their crafted chaos to perfection.
Meeting up with old friends is always worrying. Will they be as funny or as kind as you remember? Will you still enjoy each other’s company? Will it be just like you remembered? In the case of The Libertines, the answer to all three is yes. The truth is, not all friendships make it, but the one I experienced last night was as rich, joyful and sweet as it ever has been.