The Likely Lads take to the stage in Montreal

by Caroline McKenzie | 10/18/04 5:00am

MONTREAL, Oct. 16 -- Arriving at Cabaret La Tulipe, I suddenly wondered whether I would have anything to write for an article on that evening's Libertines show. Having spent the day traipsing around the city, I found myself with a ticket in one pocket, cash in another, but my back pockets devoid of either pen or paper. No way to write down any form of setlist.

Furthermore, Pete Doherty, the one errant Libertine, was, of course, nowhere near Canada. After a summer of legal charges, very brief stints in Thai rehab and, most importantly, being booted from the band until he beats his varied addictions, co-frontman Pete has been absent from the Libs' touring schedule. At present time he is touring with side project Babyshambles, in London, and sometimes bashing his former band on his website.

But like most great British bands, the Libertines are somewhat defined by the two frontmen. The Stones couldn't be the Stones without Jagger and Richards; the Beatles couldn't be the Beatles without Lennon and McCartney (although not McCartney/Lennon). Even more pertinent to the Libertines' case is the Clash, known to the majority of the population for Joe Stummer (rest in peace) and Mick Jones (who happens to produce the Libertines).

So how could the Libertines be the Libertines without Pete and Carl? How would "Can't Stand Me Now" ever work without the back-and-forth verbal pull between the two? What would the Boys in the Band be sans one very important boy, and what would become of the likely lads?

And if the Libertines failed, what would I write about?

I took a risk and braved forward (okay, it wasn't like I was about to leave the show). And amazingly, it all turned out better than anyone could ever have expected. Sans pen, sans paper, and sans Pete, both the Libertines and I still came out winners.

Very promptly at 9 p.m., opening act McLusky took the stage. An interesting Welsh rock trio, they were fun but uninspiring until their last song. A fast-paced anthem, it ended with the drummer going on a massive and impressive solo as the rest of the band took their instruments from the stage and disassembled his drum kit. The crowd was awed and loudly made their approval known.

The Libertines took the stage about a half-hour afterward. There was little fanfare as they just strolled on after a brief mic test. Carl took center stage solo in a jacket over a T-shirt emblazoned with the apt British term "Rude Boy" across the chest. He was flanked by bassist John Hassall, who kept a completely blank unfazed face, and touring guitarist Anthony Rossamondo -- not Pete. In the back, a very energetic and half-naked Gary Powell was placed behind his drum-kit.

The opening was slow -- perhaps a crescendo of sorts -- most unlike the forward lurch of the beginnings of many a rock show. The Libs opened with "The Delaney," a non-album track that a significant proportion of the crowd obviously didn't know, and then segued into "Don't Look Back Into The Sun," another obscurity, albeit one that is slightly more accessible. Then the Libertines hit the crowd hard with "The Saga," off their second album. With its thunderous guitar pulses and rollicking steady drums, "The Saga" set the Libs and the crowd into full-swing. Carl's jacket came off, as did John's. The front of the crowd became an all-and-out mosh pit. The show was off and running.

Following this came the staple "Vertigo," but the fifth tune of the evening was the real kick in the gut. "Can't Stand Me Now," the first song off the second album, is brilliant because of the collaboration between Pete and Carl. As they yell back and forth to each other on the track, it seems almost like a love-song between the two best friends, who need each other but, at the same time, are tearing each other apart, Pete with his addiction and Carl with his strong stance against it. Could such a piece work with only one frontman?

It is a testament to Carl's talent that it came off beautifully. Although it should be noted that Gary was on perfect form all evening, invigorating the crowd with both silly antics (the bizarre blond wig) and amazingly energized drumming, Carl really was the hero of the hour. And what a time for heroes it was. It was on the brink of awe-inspiring to see Carl up there solo putting his everything into each song -- and pulling each one off without a hitch. He never faulted and carried his vocals powerfully, and the crowd -- who tried to sub in for Pete, shouting back to Carl, "I'll take you anywhere" -- just soaked him up and gazed in adoration.

Thus it couldn't be said that Pete's absence was, musically, a fault in the show. Of course seeing the Libertines without dear Peter seems somehow wrong in itself, but Carl was more than able to successfully pull off the show.

If there was fault in the performance it could have been the long pauses between songs that kept the gig from flowing entirely smoothly, or the fact that "What Katie Did" was absent from the lineup (although whether the rather doo-wop sound of that song would have flowed in a rock concert is debatable).

And, sadly, the crowd had only a nucleus of devoted fans and invigorated rockers. Away from the stage and the brims of the mosh pit, there were people unfamiliar with the Libs standing with their arms crossed as if they had no idea what to do. Can this be attributed to the Libertines lack of publicity in the Americas (even though they have more publicity in the British Isles than they could know what to do with)? One can only assume as much, with the atmosphere of the show being entirely invigorating.

The rest of the show was a brilliant mix of hits from the first album and material from the second album. The first set ended with a crashing rendition of "What A Waster," but the Libs returned for an encore. And how could they not? They had to play "What Became of The Likely Lads," which followed "Horror Show." It was already quite unquestionably apparent though, that the Likely Lads have indeed succeed, despite setbacks and thoughts to the contrary. The lucky concertgoers had the chance to bask in that success.

By this time yours truly had moshed all the way to the front of the stage and clung on for dear life throughout an appropriately raucous encore. As the sounds quieted down and the Libs got ready to exit, two excited crowd members jumped on stage " one only to fall backwards in a misguided attempt to crowd surf and the other to congratulate Carl. Then a third member got boosted up on the platform -- and I found myself on the Libertines' stage. After some confused stumbling around and handing the mic back to the crowd, I jumped back down only to be reminded by a fellow crowd member that I had forgotten the setlist.

Dammit.

But as the Libertines exited, the bouncers proved charitable. Setlists were lifted from the floor and handed to fans with outstretched arms. One such fan in particular.

And so, without pen, paper, or Pete, I ended up with a review and an accurate account of the show, and the Libertines exited with both an amazingly successful set and a fully frenzied crowd singing their praises behind them.

Tonight, the Libertines continue their tour of North America at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston, Mass.

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