Carl Barat

Minus his narcotic-ridden cohort Pete Doherty, Carl Barat stepped out alone with a bunch of new songs and a smattering of old Libertines favourites.

Date: October 18, 2010

Venue: Rescue Rooms

For the uninitiated, Carl Barat is one quarter of those grizzly, dirty, scuzzy urchin-rockers The Libertines. But standing before us tonight, resplendent in his usual black vest top and trademark leather jacket, his unruly barnet unfurling across his handsome face, is Carl mk 2, a much more relaxed, positive man, at ease with the world.

You see without the frayed relationship and diminished freedom he endures when he’s saddled with his on/off Libertines partner and sometimes ‘bezzie mate’ Pete Doherty, and now that his post-Libs project Dirty Pretty Things has run its course, Carl is debonair; more poet than scrote.

Always the sensible, amiable and comprehendible one of the dastardly duo anyway, Carl now wants us to know firmly that behind the black leather jacket, behind the circus and shenanigans of The Libertines’ first foray into the music scene between 2001 and 2004, he was always a sagacious, often misunderstood soul, and a hopeless romantic.

With this new batch of disparate songs – a collection far-removed from anything from his past – he wants us to see the ‘real’ Carl Barat; a man whose heart belongs not to the vagaries of the fantastical land of Albion (an often cited whimsical Libertines dream from the band’s heyday, in which they live happily in a perceived utopian vision of England), but to poetry, to old authors, and to new lovers.

While Doherty constantly wrestles with his personal demons, it’s time for Carl to emerge unaided as the sensitive one, and his new material from his eponymous debut solo record posits him somewhere between The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon and punk-poet John Cooper Clarke.

In fact it’s his friendship with Hannon that appears to have had the biggest influence over his latest single, Run With The Boys, which opens proceedings. It’s a bouncy, playful cheeky wink of a song that has Hannon’s unmistakable stamp all over it, so much so that it would be no surprise to anyone if Hannon himself appeared behind Carl in his favourite tweed jacket playing classical flute, while the orchestral swirl envelops them both in a warm embrace.

Alas, we don’t see Hannon, but we do get other offerings from his new record. The Gallic breeze of Je Regrette, Je Regrette – his fanciful, amorous lament to a mademoiselle – is splendid, while The Magus’s fairground whirl is pleasant if incongruous.

Elsewhere we get doleful honesty, delicate odes to lost loves, and a sense that he’s pleased to finally wriggle free of the shackles of his former self as each song is gleefully received.

For some, his puppy dog eyes, suave smile and charming mystique will always bestow the poster boy image upon him, while others – chiefly blokes – will be forever transported on a journey back to the early noughties in a sweat-drenched nostalgic haze. And who could blame them? They were crazy, carefree days.

And luckily for them, Carl hasn’t abandoned these roots, as a smattering of Libs’ songs is an unexpected and delightful excursion from his new stuff.

If the throng were pleased with the ‘la la lar-ing’ excitement of The Man Who Would Be King, they were practically frothing at the mouths when old faves Up The Bracket and Don’t Look Back Into The Sun are unleashed in all their rabid, scuzzy glory, both songs met by a storm of flying limbs and beer and welcomed like long lost friends.

Even Bang Bang, You’re Dead, the Dirty Pretty Things’ best song, is aired, as Carl dips in and out of his arsenal, interspersing old and new fluently.

While the fervour still exists around his old work, it’s not quite the same level of hysteria that surrounds his new output, at least not yet. But Carl will be happy just to be able to show off the ‘Real Carl’, a man freed of any rock ‘n’ roll manacles, open to explore new avenues. He’ll be happy if his network of fans gets an understanding of who he now wants to be. Because ‘Real Carl’, you feel, just wants to be himself, and his fans are more than happy with that.

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