There is a clear trend in bands nowadays. Their most charismatic members, to exploit the natural decline in popularity which sooner or later arrives (around the second or third album on average), opt to publish a solo record.
Pioneers of indie-rock marketing since they bought their first stage suits, The Strokes showed the way. Albert Hammond Jr explored the option, then Mr Julian Casablanca in person followed. Many are coming behind. Brandon Flowers (The Killers), Kele (Bloc Party), Paul Smith (Maximo Park), Julian Plenty (Interpol) Pete Doherty and now, to not betray the other half of Libertines fans, Carl Barat.
Must be said solo albums are not news and to be fair Julian Casablanca was not even the first of the newcomers. Dan Auerbach (Black Keys) recorded a brilliant solo LP last year, Manics’ frontman James Dean Bradfield and even Nicky Wire adventured and there are countless side projects that are basically solo artists hidden behind another band name. Think at the NYC collectives.
Solo projects have also existed since rock early days. From David Gilmour to Freddy Mercury they walked along the band career and frequently have been cause of split-ups. The concept behind the solo album, though, was different. It gave the artists the opportunity to explore a more personal side of their music that was sacrificed within (and for) the band.
Today solo projects look very much a commercial passage based on clever marketing.
They restyle an idea, a sound, usually changing very little. This way the fan doesn’t lose the reference that stays in the band of origin. Solo artists rarely get new fans, they get some of the fans of the band they are part.
Most important this projects creates expectations, a sort of trepidation which is the genius behind the idea. It works unconsciously to another objective: the reunion.
Everyone in the industry understood that from a strictly economic point of view the path Oasis walked wasn’t the richest.
It is more effective to stop when popularity begins its slope, to divert to the solo parallel projects (without bothering too much for charts’ position and at a decimate cost) and then, about five years later, oil back the machine and work full steam on the very lucrative reunion tour.
Now, either marketing is getting more subtle or Carl Barat’s case deserves a special praise. Because Barat, while registering his solo project, was also rehearsing the Libertines songs which went into the four concerts setlists of the Reading/Leeds millionaire reunion. With his bandmate, Pete Doherty.
On the wave of the most predicted come back of the decade, so obvious that not even NME at a two-covers-a-month rate made vaguely memorable, it goes without saying, legendary, Carl Barat came out with is self-title debut album.
He is now touring it throughout UK and Europe. He plays tiny venues that guarantee at the same time closeness with his audience (how indie/libertine is that), sell-outs in picoseconds and, why not, fun.
I have seen Barat live in any of his musical reincarnations, multiple times. Some exciting gigs and some very boring, but one thing is constant, he enjoys playing. Differently from Pete Doherty that is all centred on himself and his narcissistic destructiveness (I smoke crack, I am a junkie, I am late, I am cool), Barat on stage is about fashion, because he knows and loves to look cool, and music.
This solo outing, let’s remember, does not only follows Libertines reunion but also two Dirty Pretty Things albums, which will be remembered for one song: Bang Bang, You’re Dead.
Dedicated (or not) to Doherty, it remains a Libertines song in a different band, and it is not a coincidence that is the song that tonight will close the first part of the show in the general mayhem.
Before, the concert swings between new tunes, which are characterized by the jazzy, literate accompaniment of a cute cellist and a double bass, and some moments of self-celebration as egotistic as out of place.
Barat moves his punk-cool style towards a romantic-retro look. His appeal works on two Italian girls on the first row and also to a group of adult people close to the stage.
All in black, slim fit, red bandana on its wrist, necklace, throws the leather jacket, poser into his black t-shirt, he knows how to seduce the audience. He studied at the school of the masters: Elvis, Morrison, Morrisey.
The concert opens with the new single, Run With the Boys, the songs works but it is the less courageous of the new ones, it starts reminding me of the gladioli-romantic Morrissey performance of Charming Man at Top of the Pop and evolves into what the Libertines would be if Pete Doherty gave signs of growing up. Je Regrette doesn’t have the same strength and the French title isn’t enough to convince you are Rimbaud. The audience, surprisingly more diverse of what I thought, looks enjoying this.
Libertines arrive first time with The Man Who Would Be King and the boys on the first rows take less than a verse to displace the girls in adoration and cling on the monitors to sing the la-la-lalllala chorus driving the only security guy to madness. Barat tries to pacify the situation with Carve My Name, another song that tries to express the poet that he has not inside, the verse “I’ve carved my name on the livers of my lovers” is quite eloquent, but the song still is pleasing.
If Dylan is right saying a good song remains a good song played just with an acoustic guitar, Carl Barat gets some more points with She’s Something. If the lyrics once again fail to be inspiring, “We need more time to live or die” do not sit among his best verses, the song works, including the acoustic guitar strum in the catchy chorus.
Deadwood changes the logistic of the gig. From now on it’ll be a case of public order that the English obsession to health and safety won’t be able to cope.
Only if you have been in UK for a while you can understand what Libertines and their music represent. A phenomenon that, beyond music, is based on empathy with the star. Star which is at the same time myth and friend. When Barat keeps playing unperturbed by the chaos, shows he trust his audience. When he offers his beer to the guys on the first row, the marriage is destined to last as much as the riot who force the poor man of the security to intimidate stopping the show early.
Impossible to rationalize what is not rational. Magus, So Long, My Lover or The Fall that almost reminds me of a Tom Waits tune with the swinging piano and the drums played with brushes, can’t do anything if mixed with Time For Heroes, Death on Stairs or Don’t Look Back in the Sun that closes the concert just a moment before the organizers have to call the police.
It is just a moment of extreme but non-violent euphoria. Carl Barat hangs out in the pub garden to smoke a cigarette but doesn’t disappear. He signs autographs on any surface a pen can write, chats with fans and with everyone is there to say hello.
This is a transition tour, that shows two aspects of the same person. On one side the libertine, the rebel teen-ager who is after the uproar who helped to build his image and is afraid to give up. On the other the romantic chanteur, adult and in love. The man became aware that among the few certainties of life there is growing up. He still has to take conscience that in the growth the loss of innocence and ingenuity he so much loves are replaced by experience and wisdom which is not worse.
I doubt Pete Doherty is any close to this stage, but Carl Barat is a clever guy, knows how to write a tune and was brave to record something different. He challenged first himself then, much more difficult, the indie community. A very rigid group convinced to be progressist but in reality closed within is clichés.
A community which is ready to condemn either who betrays an idea or who sticks to it. Barat,closed in a corner, before becoming the parody of himself recorded his solo debut without caring. Helped by Divine Comedy‘s Neil Hannon, who masters these arrangements and with the love of a French girlfriend he explored the use of strings, choruses and “chanson”.
NME turned its back on this, expectedly. They have been working and selling magazines on the Libertines come back, supporting Barat solo career would mean boycott their own existence. Instead I hope that Libertines reunion was the end chapter of a nice story that is better to end now. The story of Carl Barat has just started.
There is a worse thing of no-light for concert photography with digital cameras: red lights.
Now I don’t know the technical reasons but clearly digital sensors can’t cope with red lights.
so if you happen to be at a gig like this with only a red light on stage you know there are not many chances to avoid the problem.
I have few suggestions:
Shoot in raw (you should always do if you are serious). There are chances you can recover at least partially the whites, if you bring home raw files of your concert.
Converting the raw files in B&Wis also a viable option.
Bring a flash, it’s not always permitted but in extreme situations (read: when you can’t work) it helps. Bounce it on the ceiling and no one will bother.
Kindly ask the man at the mixer to do something, to switch on a white spot or add some other colours. It’s rare but sometime they help.
if you can, shoot on film! If only I knew. B&W film do not have any problem with red lights, they give much better usable negatives than your digital.