Live Review: The Libertines / Benefits / Bear Park – The Arc, Stockton 23.01.2024

Francis Fitzgerald

By Francis Fitzgerald

A wet Winter night in Stockton, and it is the opening night of the Libertines Albionay tour of ‘small sweaty clubs’. The band are touring their hotly anticipated fourth album due in March ‘All Quiet on the Eastern Esplanade’. So how did that first night go? Answer, they went down a storm, just like storm Jocelyn who was howling outside.

The show was sold out ages ago. So it was a shame that many of the fans missed the support acts. First on were Bear Park, an up and coming trio from Newcastle, they played a tight set of melodic jazz infused guitar pop/ rock that would stand up against many more established acts.

The room filled up considerably for Benefits. I have seen these local Teesside legends several times now and they just get better and better. Their set, and their acclaimed debut album, Nails can best be described as a relentless angry haranguing onslaught aimed at right leaning folk amongst us, the cultural fodder we are fed and all of us for consuming it. The delivery is shouted at us by frontman Kingsley, with a backing barrage of noisy soundscape (provided by Mitch on drums and the Major brothers for electronics) that sometimes emerges into rhythmic tunefulness. The experience is like being run over by a ten ton truck, but then feeling refreshed and awakened in the aftermath. Of course, everyone had come to see the Libertines, but I overheard several of their fans saying that Benefits were totally unexpected and fucking awesome.

By the time the Libertines came on stage, the room was absolutely packed and bouncing. They launched straight into ‘Up The Bracket’, the title track from their debut album. Of course, the crowd knew the words by heart, so Pete Doherty and Carl Barat did not have much work to do in the singing department, to be honest. The song set the tone for the rest of the set with Doherty and Barat trading tight guitar riffs and vocals throughout. This crowd pleaser was just a taster of plenty more classics from the back catalogue, including Vertigo, The Likely Lads, Death on The Stairs and Time For Heroes.

With the new album already in the can, we might have expected more of it to be previewed in the set, but we were quite content to hear the singles ‘Run Run Run’, and ‘Night of the Hunter’ and the new song ‘Mustang’ to whet our appetites. Can’t wait for the album now.

Since you are reading this you will probably know that the Libertines tell stories, often personal, about the darker side of life, but the music that carries them is anthemic, singalong and tuneful. On more than one occasion I detected a hint of jolly West African high life guitar in the song intros. The Libertines are not just Carl and Pete however. Gary Powell on drums is simply awesome. It has been a while since I heard a drum solo in a gig, and the five minutes given over to Powell’s showcase was not wasted. John Hassall on bass held the rhythm and beat together perfectly as well.

For the encore, the band treated the by now ecstatic crowd to a couple more classics to send them home. ‘Good Ole Days’ and ‘Don’t Look Back at the Sun’. Ta very much, Libertines.

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