Amidst rumors of drug addiction and rehab, Libertines’ singer-guitarist Pete Doherty has been out of commission for the past few weeks, skipping the band’s European and North American tours. The Libertines’ Web site simply says Doherty is “unwell.” I’m sure these Brit-punks miss their friend and band mate, but the lack of Doherty’s presence at the Atlanta show didn’t diminish the reckless runaway train of a rock band this is… not one bit.
After being heavily censored on The Late Show With David Letterman, The Libertines created a buzz for themselves in America, drawing comparisons to late ’70s punk pioneers like The Jam, The Ramones and The Clash. These are bold comparisons, but after realizing Clash-guitarist Mick Jones produced the band’s first album, it gets harder to argue with them. The Libertines’ new release, Don’t Look Back Into The Sun, dropped earlier today and the band takes the Cotton Club stage ready to celebrate by blowing the doors off the place.
Doherty’s “other-half,” singer-guitarist Carlos Barat saunters up to the microphone in a leather jacket and faded blue jeans, a Les Paul Junior slung over his shoulder. There is no introduction, just the sudden onslaught of feedback-laden, trip-hammer punk-rock guitar. Halfway through the 2nd song, Barat breaks a string, but it hardly matters—this isn’t about perfection, it isn’t about all the notes being in the right place—this is about raw, unadulterated energy; about having a good time and never mind the bollocks.
Anthony Rossomando, Doherty’s temporary replacement, strums his guitar, lit cigarette jammed under the strings just behind the nut. He sways, head bobbing, underneath the red lights of the stage. Gary Powell, the group's only American—a powerhouse of a shirtless, bald drummer—runs the toms with an irresponsible intensity. Bassist John Hassall just stares blankly into the crowd, fingers power-walking up and down the neck of his vintage Fender bass, feet planted, motionless like the Stones’ Bill Wyman. The songs are compact bursts of energy, some lasting less than two minutes. “Blitzkrieg Bop”-esqe power-chord guitar riffs and minor key punk musings abound under Barat’s tasteful, single-note lead guitar.
Seeing the Libertines live is like being stuck with a cattle prod and enjoying it. Between songs, someone in the audience yells out, “F--- you! You guys suck!” It’s an almost-requisite punk-rock cliché—hate the band you paid to see, they’re a bunch of rock star wankers anyway, right? Hassall stares stone-faced into the lights. No one else in the band responds either. Some girls in the front row, one blonde and one brunette, try to bring back equilibrium. “We love you!” they scream, raising their beers in the air. There are a few boos, but most of the crowd cheers. The Libertines remain un-phased. They are obviously used to the love / hate thing by now.
As far as the aforementioned comparisons to punk legends go, the band isn’t far off the mark, though they lack the blatant ridiculousness of The Ramones, the tightness of The Clash (though both share a penchant for catchy melodies and well-orchestrated changes) and the more serious political leanings of The Jam (though both excel at minor-key punk anthems).
At show’s end, The Libertines whip the crowd into a frenzy with squealing guitar and pounding drums. For a few seconds it sounds like the space shuttle is taking off. This is no longer The Cotton Club; it’s Cape Canaveral in the dark. The smoke in the room becomes the main booster rocket’s cloudy vapor trail and… we have liftoff. Thirty seconds later, The Libertines put down their instruments and walk off stage in sea of feedback, hurling cups of beer and water at the cheering crowd on their way out.
It’s just another night for The Libertines. Just another night on the road. Another night in the life of a band chasing rock ‘n’ roll oblivion.