- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Judging by their Tuesday performance at the 9:30 Club, the Libertines live by a time-honored punk principle: three minutes is better than 10 minutes, and two minutes is better than three minutes.

Every time it looked as though they were about to drag a tune into that nether region known as jammin’, they’d snuff it out like a half-smoked cigarette.

Before you knew it, 75 minutes had clicked by; the Libertines played most of the tunes from their two albums; frontman Carl Barat had barely said hello — and you’re home in time to catch the final inning of the Sox-Yankees game.

The Libertines were short-order cook efficient, and no one expects that from London’s trouble-prone retro garage rockers, who get as much ink in British tabloids as they do in the music press.

Tuesday’s gig was incident-free. No guitars were smashed; no singers went home early. Pete Doherty, the band’s erratic, drug-addicted co-frontman (he’s been arrested for drugs as well as burgling Mr. Barat’s house) is in a timeout corner back home. Anthony Rossomando, a guitarist from Boston, is his better-behaved understudy.

Mr. Barat and Mr. Rossomando intertwined guitar parts that were trickier than they sounded, and Gary Powell, the band’s muscular, Seal-look-alike drummer, played with more funk and groove than is typical of punk-rock bands.

Tune-wise, the Libertines play in the style of the Kinks (“Narcissist” has “You Really Got Me” written all over it) and the Buzzcocks — lean and mean, but pink in the middle. “Can’t Stand Me Now,” from their self-titled second album, is one of the catchiest songs of the year and sounded like some lost Clash classic Tuesday night.

“The Boy Looked at Johnny,” “Boys in the Band,” “What Became of the Likely Lands” — if there’s another garage-revival band out there more consistently tuneful, I haven’t heard it yet.

When singing live, Mr. Barat is a bit of a mumbler, which is a shame. The Libertines have clever lyrics. It’s safe to say those unfamiliar with “What a Waster” didn’t catch the song’s literary references. The waster in question had written down her dreams, with the result being akin to “the unabridged ‘Ulysses.’”

It’s quite possible that members of the Libertines have actually read James Joyce all the way through and learned an important lesson: Don’t bore us, get to the chorus.

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