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O.K., for any of you that ever plan on visiting Tokyo let me offer two pieces of advice. First, always allow yourself plenty of time to get anywhere, and second, try and avoid Japanese maps at all costs. Having resided in the land of the rising sun for over seven months now, I of all people should have kept these two things in mind as I set out to find the Liquid Room in Shinjuku, one of Tokyo’s largest wards. The reason for my trek was to take in a performance from one of the UK’s hottest new bands, the Libertines.
For some reason unbeknownst to anyone, most of Japan does not have any kind of formal address system. As a result, the majority of streets don’t have names, and most buildings lack numbers. This makes trying to locate anything that’s not a major landmark extremely difficult for local residents and cab drivers (as I discovered during my search), let alone expats and tourists. There are plenty of maps of different areas to supposedly guide people in their journeys, but they are usually way out of proportion and tend to only show major intersections, often leaving out the zillion side streets that jut out in every direction that one could possibly imagine. After wandering the maze-like streets of Shinjuku for a disgustingly long time I finally stumbled upon the Liquid Room. To add to my disappointment and anger I discovered that the band had already steamrolled their way through half of the evening’s 18-song, hour-long set.
Luckily all my frustrations were forgotten after spending a minute and a half with the fine gents from London, England known as the Libertines. As they launched into the opening notes of “Boys in the Band” as I entered the venue, it became quite evident why so much press from around the world has been heaped upon the youngsters over the last year. Having made a name for themselves here last August with what, from all accounts, was a stellar performance at Tokyo’s annual Summer Sonic festival, the guys decided to return for a ten day Japanese tour. Tonight’s show was the first of four that occurred in Tokyo. Originally slated to only play two concerts in the nation’s capital, the Libertines added the other two just prior to the tour due to overwhelming demand.
Finishing the song, the guys instantly kicked into “Up the Bracket”, the title track of their Rough Trade Records debut. Completely drenched in sweat, guitarists and vocalists Pete Doherty and Carl Barat, along with drummer Gary Powell, were topless and pounding away on their respective instruments. Not wanting to partake in the mass nudity, bassist John Hassall chose to remain fully clothed, keeping on his fedora to boot, and stood statuesque in the shadows as he played his parts. Performing essentially all of Up the Bracket, as well as several B-sides, little was said as Doherty and Barat chose to let their dynamic guitars and energetic, raw rock ‘n’ roll sound, which harkens back to the glory days of the Clash and the Jam, take the spotlight. Bouncing around on the small stage, banging into one another and showering those gathered up front with beads of moisture from their writhing bodies, Doherty and Barat were definitely in a zone. Having a fantastic time, the band’s energy and passion was easily absorbed by the capacity crowd who screamed their support at every given chance.
On disc, the group’s music is instantly contagious. Loaded with fantastic sing-a-long choruses and catchy-as-fuck rhythms, it’s impossible not to want to bop up and down as you listen to their infectious brand of guitar driven rock ‘n’ roll. Live, this is completely magnified. The music loses some of its polish and takes on a much dirtier, tighter sound giving you no choice but to shake your ass. This was painfully evident watching the throng of perspiring Japanese kids on the floor of the packed two level venue as they danced, cheered, pumped their fists, and crowd surfed to every note pounded out by the lanky quartet. The slightly older, mostly foreign crowd on the second level attempted to come off as being slightly more composed and mature than their teenage counterparts, but try as they did by the end of the show the majority of them where also dancing and singing along.
The highlight of the later part of the set came during “The Boy Looked at Johnny”. As Doherty, along with some help from the audience, sang the chorus of “la de di la de di da” a Japanese teenager pushed his way to the front and climbed up on stage. Grabbing the microphone, the boy began repeatedly screaming “yeah yeah yeah” and jumping up and down. Doherty, ever the cool frontman, didn’t miss a beat as he smoothly slid over to the next mic and continued to sing the chorus. Just happy to be a part of the fun, the boy jumped around a bit more before doing a summersault with the biggest grin on his face into the audience, creating a humorous moment. With the song winding down Barat thanked the crowd in Japanese by saying “domo arigato gozaimasu” before following his band mates offstage for a short break.
Charging back onstage a few short minutes later for their two song encore, Doherty picked up his microphone stand, hoisted it over his head, and then smashed it into the ground as his partner in crime Barat hollered his way through “Skag and Bone Man”. Without pausing the group began playing “I Get Along”. As the song progressed, two overzealous female fans jumped onto stage and began dancing. Noticing that security was not going to remove them, they quickly ran over and attached themselves to Doherty and Barat, who continued playing as if nothing were going on. Perhaps being mauled by Japanese females is a common occurrence for the NME poster boys. As the song ended, and the adoring girls retreated back into the crowd, the quartet threw water bottles, towels, set lists, and anything else that wasn’t nailed down into the audience, bowed respectfully and made their exit.
A fantastic performance, that showcased how rock n’ roll should be but so often is not; my only regret is that I didn’t get to see more of it.