Much has been made of Pete Doherty’s corpulent condition since he found love – and cheese – in the sunny climes of the south of France. Maybe the unkind comments have, understandably, bothered him. Charged with cutting the ribbon for the Glastonbury’s Other Stage, The Libertines had to follow an urgent video message broadcast from Ukraine’s embattled leader, President Zelensky, rallying for festival goers to aid his beleaguered nation. It’s a poignant moment.
When the Libs arrive, Pete is donning a huge monk’s cloak that could be interpreted as communicating one of two things: either a pious statement from clean-Pete of his new-found abstinence, or a get-up that pays homage to Obi-One Kenobi. Two very different signals. Speaking of differences, his old songwriting sparring partner Carl Barat is the picture of good health, showing little of the rock and roll miles on the clock. Sporting a loose Peaky Blinders’-themed garb of white vest, braces, striped slacks, and snakeskin boots, he paces the stage with the energy of old.
The tale of contrasts doesn’t end there. Although a morning slot feels incongruous to the after-hours decadence of the Libertines’ legend, they muster plenty of chaos under Worthy Farm’s cloudy skies. In keeping with their reputation, the music sounds as though it’s been booted down the stairs and could fall apart at any moment. A raucous ‘Up the Bracket’ kicks down the barricades, and the likes of an extended ‘What Katie Did’ engenders the first singalong of the festival. Whilst the chorus to 2002’s ‘Boys in the Band’ sits uncomfortably with audiences in 2022 – especially coming from a band whose members are nestled in middle age – elsewhere their street poetry continues to sparkle, showing little-to-no signs of age. Their street poetry, which has always tended to showcase a picaresque parade of dreamers and schemers, as well as lashings of autobiography, still shine.
Truth be told, attention see-saws as they play, and you get the impression the band sense it too, but a full-throttle ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’ gets a rabid response, sparking the first flare of the festival. Likewise, ‘What Became of the Likely Lads’ is ebullient and bobbing. Rounding off with the evergreen lyrical observations of ‘Time for Heroes’ and the infectious guitar chime of ‘Don’t Look Back into the Sun’, the Libertines will likely see this as a job done.
Dig a little deeper and The Libertines, however, present an interesting conundrum in the 2020s. Only the cod-reggae chug of Gunga Din is exhumed from their last album and it leaves you wondering where they go from here. Is there life in the Libs’ legs? Or is it a case of diminishing returns and a future on the nostalgia circuit that awaits? As ever, they demand to be part of a conversation; an act whose inexplicable personalities and innate volatility continue to spark questions. No matter what, this Glasto set showcased them from all sides: the good, the bad, and the (occasionally, musically) ugly. They continue to straddle the line between being capable and incapable, sublime and ridiculous. And maybe we wouldn’t have them any other way.