Cerrone for Time Out

by John Dugan

Rory Phillips recently posted a Guardian article about Cerrone, so I dug this out to share.

Thirty, but still flirty

It’s time to give Cerrone’s  disco originals another spin.  By John Dugan

The music of disco pioneer Giorgio  Moroder has gotten a thorough reappraisal in recent years, but another influential producer, France’s Cerrone (Jean-Marc Cerrone), has been a bit neglected. Which is strange, because Cerrone is far from obscure: He sold more than 3 million copies worldwide of his raunchy 1976 debut, Love in C Minor, and DJs and artists of many stripes still hold his penultimate album, Cerrone 3, in high regard. You’ve probably heard more Cerrone than you think: His recordings are heavily sampled by everyone from Daft Punk to Lionel Richie. On the 30th anniversary of his breakout year, five albums by Cerrone get the royal treatment with CD reissues and a vinyl box set on the Malligator/Recall label. Also this month on Recall, Cerrone by Bob Sinclar—a 2001 million-seller mix-CD—finally reaches the States. 

We recently gave Cerrone a ring while the drummer, composer and singer was passing through New York. When not touring, he’s planning a huge dance party for next October in New York’s Central Park (www.nydanceparty.net) featuring his and Nile Rodgers’s bands playing live to 70,000 dancing people. He hints that he may bring the Chic/Cerrone tour to Chicago sometime thereafter—all part of his efforts to make dance music a live experience. “That’s why I do this business: to play, not to be an engineer or a DJ and play the music of someone else,” Cerrone says in a thick accent. “The emotion come[s] from the body and specifically the drummer.”

“I don’t make music for radio, I make it 
for myself and the discotheque.”

His music career started one Christmas, when the fidgety 12-year-old Parisian got a real drum kit from his mother. As a teen, he convinced Gilbert Trigano, the devout communist who ran Club Med, to hire him to put together bands to play at the resorts. For four and a half years, Cerrone booked some 40 funky rock bands at the Club Med “villages” in Italy, Spain and elsewhere. It was a big learning experience, evidently. “It was also the beginning of a sex life, because trust me, at the beginning of Club Med, that was really something,” he remembers. “A lot of people ask me questions about [Studio] 54 and how fun that was. Trust me, the Club Med was stronger. You can’t imagine.” His band the Kongas held residency at St. Tropez and penetrated ’70s New York with “Anikana-O.” Cerrone picked the best bassists and keyboard circuit for himself.

When he recorded a 16-minute song for his first LP, it was designed for a purpose the biz had yet to envision. “If you go back to that time, all major companies, all radio look at me like a strange guy coming in from the moon. And everybody said to me, ‘How can we play 16 minutes on the radio?’ My answer was always, ‘I don’t make the music for the radio, I make it for myself and then for the discotheque.’” Moroder had hit gold a few months earlier with Donna Summer, and Cerrone’s debut joined disco’s first wave of smashes in ’76. 

In August of ’77, Cerrone unpacked his first synth. “We started to find a few sounds that were so strange. So I play the drums with the synthesizer live.” The result, “Supernature,” is a disco landmark, and a punk one. Friend Lene Lovich contributed sci-fi–inspired lyrics for Cerrone 3 and loads of other Cerrone releases.

The reissues sport the original scandalous album art—think a naked woman on top of a refrigerator. “At that time, about ’75, [we got] the pills for the girls not to get the baby,” he says. “You don’t imagine what kind of a revolution [it was]. So when you produce music for the discotheque, you try to find sex. It was logic to get a girl on the front of the sleeve.”

It’s also logical that he makes a nice euro from sample publishing. “I don’t think it’s bad for me to ask for so much,” he says. “That kind of music needs a real atmosphere, otherwise you’ve fucked up.”

Cerrone by Bob Sinclar and CD reissues of Cerrone’s first five albums are out Tuesday 14 on Recall Records.

November 9, 2006


Rick Buckler of The Jam, 2008 Interview

by John Dugan

I recently noticed a site where I used to freelance is having technical issues posting its archives. For that reason, I'm grabbing some of my pieces from that site and reposting here. First up, Rick Buckler from The Jam. Rick was about to embark on a February 2008 tour of the U.S. bringing From The Jam to Chicago. I also caught the show, which was great for what it was.

LiveDaily Interview: Rick Buckler of From the Jam
January 10, 2008 09:01 AM
By John Dugan
LiveDaily Contributor

In 1977, The Jam stood out from the rest of the punk explosion pack. The band had been honing its craft in pub gigs for several years and, while full of punk energy, the power trio also knew its '60s chops--mod rock, soul and even psychedelia crept into its compositions. The Jam also boasted Paul Weller, a songwriter with a class perspective.

The band only punctured the US charts a few times and, by 1982, the trio had split after releasing a No. 1 UK album, "The Gift." The group's rhythm section was particularly distinctive in its time--and now, it's back.

Following on successful tours of the UK last May and November, From the Jam -featuring original bassist Bruce Foxton and drummer Rick Buckler of England's mod-punk godfathers The Jam--will hit the States for 13 shows this month. Weller, who's issuing a deluxe, two-disc version of his second solo album, "Wildwood," this month, won't be joining them, however. Rather, Russell Hastings of Maximum High sings Weller's parts and plays guitar. To learn more, we spoke to Buckler as he enjoyed his teatime at home in the South of England.

LiveDaily: One thing that occurred to me is that From the Jam are touring as a four-piece, not a power trio. Is that because of keyboard needs?

Rick Buckler: Yeah, It was initially because of the keyboards. There are some songs like "A Town Called Malice" and "The Gift" that you really couldn't do without the keyboards, but Dave [Moore] is a good guitar player anyway, so it just gave us that chance to put in those guitar parts live that The Jam never did--that, obviously, we put onto record but never really played live. We had keyboard players and horn sections and backing vocals to augment the band, but we never had a second guitar. It's a nice little avenue to explore. It certainly adds to it; it's more like people remember from the record rather than necessarily the old live sound.

The overdubbed solos are there.

Yeah, all those nice little extra guitar things that are on the record. 

So Russell and Dave are both playing guitar? 

Russ is the main guitar, if you like, and Dave flits between keyboards and guitar.

As for Russell's voice, does he turn extra Wellerisms on, is it his own singing style, or in between?

It's entirely his own thing. He sings in the way that he sings. He doesn't come from a million miles away from Paul or from us, in the south of England. He's his own man and does his own thing. I don't think he regards it as filling anybody's shoes. I don't know if you know, but, years ago, he was a big Jam fan himself. He had been to several of the shows, [including] the last one. I only bumped into him a few years ago. I knew what he had been doing. I had been running a website, the Jamfan.net, and each year I used to put on a show in the Woking/Guilford area and hire a few bands in. And one of the bands I got in was Maximum High, which Russ was in.

I was always quite impressed with his stagecraft. I think he really fit in. When we first got together with him to put The Gift [an earlier band that covered Jam material] together, it all fell in really nicely. He had the passion for the songs and understood what was needed from the songs.

How did The Gift and Bruce Foxton get together? 

Bruce was doing Stiff Little Fingers and was also in another band called Casbah Club. We ended up being on the same bill at Guilford. I called him up and [asked] him did he fancy jumping up and doing a couple of numbers with us. We did "Smithers-Jones" and "Tube Station," I think. The reaction was fantastic. He did one or two more guestings with us. By the end of 2006, we decided to make the whole thing concrete and do the thing properly. We ended up with a May tour of the UK, and went on to the bigger tour that we've just finished in November and December. I think Bruce discovered, as I did, that it was great fun to revisit the Jam material, and that the original Jam fans, as well as new ones, were out there and wanted to hear it. Everybody was a winner.

The music seems so relevant and so many bands draw on The Jam. Everything has come back around in a lot of ways.

I think that is all due to Paul's songwriting. A lot of the songs have lasted the test of time. In some cases, it's unfortunate that they still have meaning with "Little Boy Soliders" and what have you. The world doesn't seem to have changed that much. Paul was always very good at observing things and translating them into verse, at it were. That is obviously what has lasted.

Being a drummer myself, I know that some songs come back to one easily, and others are a bit harder to remember how to play. Which Jam songs were the trickiest for you? "Tube Station" is a bit of a workout on the hi-hat, right? Were there any you had to work at?

I hadn't played for 12 years [before The Gift]. I was literally at the starting point again. I just put in loads and loads of practice. It's not too bad; I'm lucky enough that if there are things that I can't remember, I just pull the album out and listen to it, and refresh my memory on certain bits. It did take me a while to get back up to speed. It all seemed worthwhile, and we had a lot of fun doing it. It's not that difficult. It's like riding a bike, but knowing that you are going to take part in a race, not just go down the shops.

People are going to be watching.

I did find that a bit of a shock--people were watching more intently than I thought they might do. I really thought that I better shine up my shoes and everything.

Last year you celebrated the 30th anniversary of the release of "In the City," The Jam's 1977 debut. Why is "In the City" still a classic? I always think of that being the pubby, punky side of The Jam. How do you feel about that record?

That was the culmination of what we had been rehearsing for, for the first five years. It was the best of what we could put together to do that first album. There wasn't a lot of songwriting involved. It was already there; we just had to record it. In that way, it was fantastic and it was done live in the studio as well. ... It was a learning curve with us. With [1977 follow-up album "This is the Modern World"], we tended to be a bit more delicate in the way we did things without trying and testing the songs. To come up with an album before you take it out to the crowd was a weird thing for us. People didn't know the material. The whole thing was a very long learning curve. By the time we got to [1978's] "All Mod Cons," I think we'd got it together about the way that we did things. Each album was a turning point for us, a musical idea or just in the way we worked. The whole thing of, "This isn't a hobby anymore chaps; you really have to get this together," dawned on us quite early in '77, because we did two albums in '77, you see.

There is that Beatle-y evolution with The Jam, "We're gonna outdo what we did on the last record." That's the mark of an ambitious band, trying to one up yourself.

It was always a bit strange for us; we never really felt like we had a groove like some bands have. You see bands that, once they find a particular thing that works, they stick with it and ended up sounding samey. We never saw ourselves in any particular slot, we managed to stay out of the rut by simply dodging it all the time. I think that's what kept us alive musically: that we could continually experiment. Maybe that's why Paul, in the end, found that he had nowhere else to go with it. I don't necessarily agree with that view, but some of the things he said near the end, he wanted to move on. I thought The Jam was very much moving on anyway.

It seems a bit odd, considering that Weller played some Jam tunes the last time I saw him in Chicago--in 2004 I think it was--that getting back together wasn't a possibility for him. Was there any discussion?

He's pretty much drawn the line and said he's not into any sort of band reunion and made all sorts of comments about how destitute he would have to be [laughing] and all sorts of things. So there didn't seem to be a lot of point, but, on the other hand, we did make it known that, in the early stages, that the door was open to him anytime and still is, if he wanted to come along and have a bit of fun. But we didn't want to get tied up in the perception that if Paul wasn't involved then it couldn't happen. Because, as far as myself and Bruce are concerned, that's not the way things were. We were two-thirds of the band, and we probably have every right to go out and play these songs, as much as Paul has. Our only concern was, how would the fans take to that sort of scenario? And we've found that they've been very happy with it. Most Jam fans have been waiting for this for a very long time. I think they are a little let down that Paul won't get involved, but I think that's Paul letting himself down. I really don't know what Paul thinks about this because he's very difficult to talk to and we haven't--at least I haven't--spoken to him in a long time. He has got his own career and his own thing happening, and maybe that's where he wants to focus himself. And if he doesn't want to get involved, fair enough. It should never really stop me and Bruce from doing what we want to do.

If you have a proper balance of doing it for the love of the music and for the fans, people seem accepting. I don't get the sense that you are just doing it to make money.

In reality, we are obviously doing it to earn some money. We couldn't do it if we weren't earning money. But the only reason we are able to earn money is that we have people who want to come and see the show. It all sort of follows, so I don't feel guilt for being paid for the job I do. We are having a great time doing it.


A Scene In Between

by John Dugan

[From Nothing Major, 9/2013]

Author Sam Knee documents the sartorial influence of Morrissey, Stephen Pastel, Sterling Morrison's boots and the roots of UK indie fashion of the '80s in his new book, A Scene In Between: Tripping Through the Fashions of UK Indie Music 1980- 1988.

Pastels at Onion Cellar

Pastels at Onion Cellar

Popular recent interpretations of the '80s often include new wave angles, fluorescent colors and Miami Vice-inspired louche looks. But of course, style in the music underground was evolving in a much different way. Members of the UK indie scene, in particular, adopted styles inspired by the Byrds, the Velvet Undergound and other unsung heroes of rock and pop's original revolution. Even today, one can see traces of this indie look in bands and fans—many of whom have no idea of the roots of their chosen aesthetic. A new book, A Scene In Between: Tripping Through the Fashions of UK Indie Music 1980-1988, chronicles the emergence of this style from the ground up. It includes dozens of photos, both professional and amateur, shining a light on this DIY music movement's fashion component. We queried Sam Knee for more background and to see if he could narrow '80s indie in the UK down to five types. He did!

The indie scene in the '80s had a real affinity for the '60s in terms of look and sonic aesthetic. Do you think this worked against it being taken seriously? In other words, did it come off as a rehash—rather than something new? Or was it also expressing a wish to revisit those '60s revolution values?
The '80s UK indie bands clearly had a deep fascination for all things '60s but with a distinct '80s bent, they weren't total revivalists. The '60s were in the air and seen as a utopian escape from Thatcher yuppie Britain. Remember that this mythological era was less than twenty years before and hazy fading glimpses of it were to seen regularly in all towns and cities across the land. Sixties clothes were available for pennies in charity shops and hard to resist. The indie scene was the last extension of the new wave DIY era before the whole E thing set in around 88. It couldn't have existed without the new wave, post punk preceding as inspiration as well as '60s isms. 

What were Morrissey's love beads all about? He seemed very taken with the '50s, but then the beads kind of went in another direction.
Morrissey had his own unique fashion sense plucking select sartorial elements with suggestive knowing flare from a cornucopia of sources. I guess the 501's and quiff were James Dean via Billy Fury. The beads, gladioli, floaty blousy shirts were a hodge podge mash-up of Quentin Crisp, Oscar Wilde, Joe Orton, poetic bohemian flamboyance with an added contemporary ironic Dole reality. Morrissey chic took hold of the nation's youth and soon became a fashion sub genre in its own right, eventually becoming a cliché that he's never shook off.

This "indie" look wasn't the only thing going for music subcultures at the time... What else was happening? I remember that the cowpunk look, for one, was big for a while with the bolo ties, etc.
The UK in the early/mid '80s was literally infested with youth sub genre underground scenes and movements. You had Goth which peaked around 83 then became increasingly commercial. Elements of the goth type look tipped over into cool foreign bands like The Birthday Party, Gun Club and of course The Cramps. These three were big here in the UK prior to the homegrown indie explosion and their fashion slants bled into bands such as MBV, JAMC around 83/84.

The mod revival kicked off in 79 and steadily grew and grew throughout the decade to become a vast self contained underground network of bands, fanzines, clubs. Mod was huge! I was a bit of a scruffy longhaired mod and crossed over into this scene quite frequently, this was the era of indie/mod crossover that died out around 88 also. The mod scene carried on regardless of course as every year was 64/65. 

Why do think that Velvet Underground/Byrds look was so influential? Was VU a complete package—sound, look, attitude—kind of a code word for entry into the underground?
Both bands evoked an exotic mystery and cool that '80s disenchanted teenagers could relate to and form fashion direction from. Far from the glossy mainstream horror of Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, etc. the VU and Byrds lured a gateway to parallel realities.

JAMC brought the stark menace of early VU into the youths consciousness via Pastels, Subway Sect, Fire Engines and Hamburg-era Beatles. The look was already going on but they refined it into their own around 84/85 and became the Creation Records roster template. Johnny Marr was a leading exponent of The Byrds look also as well as early Primal Scream, so it was becoming a youth trend circa 84-87.

Who might the sartorial hero of the indie kid in the '80s be? You mention John Cale/Sterling Morrison in your intro.
Contemporary wise it was early Orange Juice's Edwyn and James Kirk, Stephen Pastel's a big influence on the whole era and Bobby Gillespie. '60s wise Love, VU, Byrds, Pretty Things, John's Children.

And who for women?  
Contemporary wise Marine Girls, Dolly Mixture, Talulah Gosh plus '60s sirens Nico, Kitchen Sink dramas, Jean Seberg in Breathless.

Some of these bands were hailing from smaller towns, where did they get their threads? 
As the look was generally second hand (in a pre vintage world) indie scenesters relied heavily on charity shops/jumble sales and old fashioned outfitters carrying old stock from the '60s (now known as deadstock). Shoes were trickier, so a trip to an outlet of Shelley's Shoes for their Chelsea Boots was required or D.M shoes which you could get anywhere cheap or Clarkes Desert Boots.  

Did folks play up their look mainly for live gigs and club DJ nights, or was it a 24-7 thing in the UK?
This was how people lived and looked. There was no stage wear as such or any kind of dressing up, this was it. 

Can you give us five examples of different looks from the 81-88 era and what elements defined them?
1- You had the Orange Juice look which dabbled with Americana, Gabardine shirts, Pendelton plaids crossed with a English public school, aristocratic twist ie: cable wool cardigans, cravats, Tweeds.

2- JAMC look circa 84/85 consisting of black leather box blazer jackets, black leather drainpipe trousers, creepers, stripy T-shirt or tatty check shirt all combined with a big fuzzy backcombed hair. Cool.

3- The Morrissey. Voluminous floaty blousey shirts half done up to show off your beads and flower chain, tatty original 50l's bought easily from secondhand meccas such as Flip in Covent Garden London or Kensington Market stalls that specialised in American rag. D.M shoes or old brogues easily acquired for little expense plus fifties style quiff for total worship.

4- The Sterling Morrison. Head to toe black. Either chelsea boots or engineer boots (penned as King Hatreds by the man himself). Skinny jeans. Black roll or turtle neck and lank greasy moptop of hair covering eyes and face to add an antisocial slant. This look was hugely popular across indie scenesters and '60s garage enthusiasts.

5- The Anorak. Largely pioneered by Stephen Pastel the look was very evocative of the early '60s art student/beatnik style. Sixties anoraks were easily acquired in various fabrics/colourways and were often reversible with quilting. Worn over, for example, a stripey Breton Tee, with a pair of straight leg cords and desert boots oozed '60s youth angst topped off with a srcuffy, shortish mop of hair. Pretty happening.
 Felt B/W by J C Brouchard 1986

What happened in 88? What killed this scene and accompanying looks?
The indie scene here was winding down and evolving into other sartorial chapters...

E rave culture came along and increasing interest in the US indie scenes with the rise of the Sub Pop, Am Rep, Sympathy, TreeHouse, Homestead etc. etc. type bands. 

Will the next book have more American acts? 
Yeah it'll have some, most importantly Beat Happening and the embryonic Olympia K scene among others. I'd like early pics of the Watch Children from NJ, Crystalized Movements if anyone has any out there? 

Can you think of any bands still pulling off the 80s indie look? 
Mmm pass on that one, I'm waay outta touch.

Preview A Scene In Between at Cicada Books


order online from Amazon UK.


Giving Age the Ax

by John Dugan

If you want an inkling of what the scene in Wicker Park was like ten years ago, this speaks to that. I covered a project by artist/activist Jenny Sheppard. She now resides in the Baltimore area. The Saverio Truglia photos were amazing.

August 22, 2002

Plug in, turn up, feel better.

Seated in a padded metal chair, the woman on the videotape strums downward on a white electric guitar, slowly, on every beat, eliciting a sound that echoes around the room. Another seated woman joins in tentatively with her guitar, playing a similarly odd chord. Both concentrate on a fragile, rudimentary rhythm, which only seconds later collapses. Then, with some encouraging words from a youthful voice off-camera, they begin again. Ching. Ching. Ching.

The electric guitar, says artist Jenny Graf Sheppard, is by and large "a male-, youth-, pop-dominated object." But her current endeavor, "The Guitars Project," puts the six-strings in very different hands. Twice a week from January to mid-May of this year, Sheppard led a group of women in their 70s and 80s in improvisation. The core members of her ensemble--Lodelin, Minna, Eleanor, Marion, Alice, and Carolyn--are all regular visitors to the Council for Jewish Elderly's Adult Day Services Center in Evanston. Typical events at the center include field trips, dancing, or strolls around a secure area. But for those five months, "Jenny--Guitars" was a highlighted event on the dry-erase board.

Physically, the half dozen seated players holding an assortment of guitars vaguely resemble something Glenn Branca might have thought up, but Sheppard's project has another, less visible layer--at least a few ensemble regulars have Alzheimer's. "I was interested," explains Sheppard, "in inserting older people with memory problems into a situation where that person has agency."

The Guitars Project weaves together Sheppard's long-term interests in art that explores the creative aptitudes of the elderly and in improvised experimental music. Her father was an eminent gerontologist who worked with labor unions and employers on age issues and researched the societal effects of aging. "I had one of those dads," says Sheppard, "who would bring me along and say, 'What do you think?'" Over the years, Sheppard did her own homework on the subject, and found one book, Heidi Ehrenberger Hamilton's Conversations With an Alzheimer's Patient: An Interactional Sociolinguistic Study, particularly illuminating. Conversations is unusual, says Sheppard, in that it explains the logic and structure behind how people with Alzheimer's express themselves.

At Hampshire College, where Sheppard studied film, video, and installation art, her thesis was a piece that incorporated audio and video footage of three elderly women in a nursing home. For another project she worked with Hilda Gorenstein--aka "Hilgos"--a painter and 1923 School of the Art Institute graduate then in her 90s and in a nursing home suffering from extreme memory loss. Sheppard visited and worked with the painter, ultimately mounting Hilgos-related shows featuring her own work together with Gorenstein's drawings and paintings at nursing homes and senior centers in Chicago, at SAIC, and at a New York gallery.

Since getting her MA from SAIC in 1998, she's taught there and at UIC, and played guitar with two of the more out-there underground bands in Chicago: the enshrouded Bride of No No and the improvisational, dark-wave Metalux. In the last couple years she's shown only one art piece, a motion-detecting sound-and-black-light installation called "reflex lux." "I wanted to do a project like this," she says. "But being in two bands and working, I hadn't made the time until this last semester."

Sheppard's avant-leaning musical endeavors directly inform the project. "It is really related," she says. "With Metalux, there was a similar idea in picking up the guitar and thinking, 'How am I going to interact with this object?' In Metalux, there's tension between us and our instruments. We use them, but we're alienated from them." With the CJE ensemble, Sheppard says, "we had to accept all the range of emotions they had with the instrument." This, she admits, is another way of saying, "We don't focus on the fact that you are just dusting around the strings" but concentrate rather on group participation.

Over the five months of the project, Sheppard recorded portions of the rehearsals on a portable four-track or videotaped them. Her intention all along has been to remix the material as an audio piece--she's currently working in residence at the Experimental Sound Studio to produce something from the raw rehearsal recordings--and a more finished video installation will also likely emerge from the material.

In July Sheppard showed four studio-quality color portraits of the women taken by Saverio Truglia and a nine-minute video piece in the "Synesthesia" show at Carrie Secrist Gallery, which is up through August 31. Truglia's photos are disarming--as comic as they are sweet, highlighting the incongruity between the elderly women and their electric guitars. Conversely, says Sheppard, "the video is about focusing on moments of action, something dynamic, even when somebody mistakenly plucks two strings." She loops small sections of the rehearsal footage to concentrate on the interaction between the women.

Only one of the players is an experienced musician: Eleanor, 88, was trained on piano and violin, and was once the organist at a suburban temple. And except for some valiant attempts by Eleanor--a naturally charismatic leader--to organize the ladies around her clapped-out tempo, the ensemble plays like thorough novices. Meeting three of the guitarists after a session, as they view their portraits for the first time, it's clear that they have their own theories about the project. "I don't play the guitar," says Minna upon being told she's been doing just that twice a week for several months. But the subject of music elicits vivid memories: Lodelin recounts decades of singing "sacred music" with her husband; Minna wishes her eldest son--"an expert in stringed instruments"--were around; Eleanor authoritatively announces that she's always preferred classical guitar.

The women are clearly enamored of Sheppard and thrilled to be involved in something so different from their regular routine. They have a barrage of questions for her--about her life and about the project. "Did it accomplish for you what you wanted it to?" they ask. She nods. "Some really beautiful sounds came out of it."

"At our age," says Minna, "I think to start something we've never done before is a good thing."


The Libertines

by John Dugan


Back in the days when the Reader had ample pages to fill it encouraged writers to go long whenever possible. I'm glad I had the opportunity to riff on the Libertines.


How Much Chaos Is Too Much Chaos? 

So far the Libertines are still a step ahead of their own cloud of dust.

The Libertines at Metro, 10/9

Must the show always go on? In the late 80s, when I was in high school, I drummed for a punk band called Indian Summer. We had two gigs booked in the last few months before I left for college, but our singer and guitarist both refused to play--they were feuding, and the guitarist claimed to have come down with mono. Determined to leave northern Virginia on a high note, I decided that the shows must go on and enlisted two buddies home from college to fill in. The new guitarist was a local star--a semipro skater who looked like a blond version of Ian McCulloch. He learned four of our originals and added about five covers to our repertoire, turning us from Dischord-model punks into a college bar band with taste. The new singer stood way off to one side of the stage and sang at the wall. Our sets were tight, but the audiences looked stunned--I'm sure they would've gotten angry if they hadn't been so confused. People were still razzing me about it ten years later.

If you've read one word about the Libertines, you already know who they've had to replace onstage, time and time again. Front man Pete Doherty has made such a mess of himself and the band with an excruciatingly well-publicized addiction to crack and heroin that he makes Keith Moon look sensible. Repeated visits to treatment centers in London don't seem to have helped, and this summer Doherty aborted a detoxifying stay at the Thamkrabok monastery in Thailand after less than a week. Upon his return to the UK he was promptly arrested for possession of a switchblade. Last Saturday, when the Libertines came to the Metro, Doherty was an ocean away--his side project, Babyshambles, played a gig in London on October 6.

The Libertines stumbled straight into the big time with their 2002 debut, Up the Bracket, and even without Doherty's antics they'd probably be the most talked-about band in Britain right now--their second full-length, The Libertines (Rough Trade), hit the UK charts at number one when it came out this summer. Mick Jones of the Clash produced both albums, Peter Perrett of the Only Ones has joined them onstage and in the studio, and last fall former Creation Records boss Alan McGee signed on as their manager. The band's been held up as London's "authentic" answer to the Strokes--organic, spontaneous, unhinged, and enthralling. The British music magazine NME, no doubt hard-pressed to find an appropriately hyperbolic metaphor after squandering so many on Starsailor and the Darkness, has said the Libertines rock "like God on an angel dust bender."

Of course, Chicagoans may never get to see the band in one piece. The Libertines have managed a few shows in the States with Doherty: in April and May of 2003 they played New York, Seattle, Philadelphia, Boston, and the Coachella festival in California and appeared on Letterman. But coleader Carl Barat had already been forced to front the band alone before Up the Bracket was even finished, and in June 2003 the band drafted a guitar tech to finish a European tour. Doherty was also absent for the Libertines' first proper U.S. tour that summer, just as he is for the second. Meanwhile Babyshambles missed scheduled gigs in July and August and canceled another in Scotland this month.

But Doherty hasn't been kicked out of the Libertines, and Barat has said that he's welcome back anytime--provided, of course, that he's clean. The two front men are best friends, and though on the records Doherty takes the lion's share of the lead vocals, they're credited as cowriters on most of the songs. Onstage they often share a mike, pressed together nipple to nipple, their T-shirts ripped off--a guileless intimacy that makes these pretty boys look "gayer than the Scissor Sisters" (NME again). In the summer of 2003, Doherty burglarized Barat's apartment and spent two months in prison, but as soon as he was released the pair met for a drink--and the Libertines ended up playing an unannounced gig that night. The British music press has printed every detail of the band's sordid, heartbreaking story, and who can blame them? This isn't some puffed-up scandal about a pop band cuffed by bobbies for public urination--this is actual drama.

Partway through the Libertines' set at Metro last Saturday, my date said, "They're playing as if they have something to prove." And they do. The new record is a mess, a beautiful loser, sometimes sustained by charisma alone. The riffs constantly seem like they're about to fall apart, and the unvarnished production accentuates the plunking of picks on strings. It's lovable in its own way but ultimately a step down from Up the Bracket and the subsequent I Get Along EP. In a phone interview Barat insisted that the band "felt optimistic" making it, but the music tells a different story--the brash confidence of Bracket has given way to hesitation and insecurity. It's not the record it seems to want to be--and it's maddening to hear such a great band falling so clearly short of its potential. Even the mix sounds wimpy next to the sound the Libertines get from their current touring setup, which uses a wall of four amplifiers for the two guitars alone.

Compared to their loose but enthusiastic gig at the Empty Bottle in August 2003, the Libertines were all business at Metro, and they were better for it. With minimal banter between hearty swigs of Jameson's, they stormed through 23 songs in about an hour and a half. Every few numbers Barat, bassist John Hassall, and replacement guitarist Anthony Rossomando would fall into a huddle with drummer Gary Powell, as if it were fourth and goal with seconds to go. And when they cranked back up after each of these little conferences, they nailed song after song with bravado and purpose. (Rossomando, the band's "American cousin" as Barat calls him, is also in Boston's Damn Personals--and, in the interest of full disclosure, seven years ago he played trumpet with my old band Chisel on one tour.)

I've never seen Doherty sing live (except on TV), and I know I'd miss his onstage chemistry with Barat if I'd ever felt it in the first place. But Barat's voice, slightly deeper and coarser, is fine by me, and he has no trouble moving between careless cool, romantic nostalgia, and fevered intensity. As a front man he more than held his own on Saturday: on "What a Waster" he sounded electrified, and to kick off the lead riff of "Last Post on the Bugle" he spun on his cowboy boots like a figure skater.

The band opened with the jangly rave-up "The Delaney," a B side that's also on the EP. "Some run from trouble, some meet it halfway," Barat sang--a lyric it'd be hard not to hear as addressed to his absent friend. For the rest of the night the band skimmed the cream from the new album and combined it with some more top-shelf B sides and the best songs from Bracket. Tunes like "What Katie Did," which sounds tentative and disorganized on The Libertines--it's obvious the band couldn't pound everything into shape during the short stints Doherty was around to record--were absent from the set entirely. The Pogues-y punk of "Mayday" stopped and started precisely, and the brooding "Road to Ruin" was so much better than the album version that I didn't realize it was the same song until I got home and went back to the CD. A year ago at the Bottle the band had met cries of "Where's Pete?" from obnoxious fans, but at Metro nobody heckled at all.

The set wrapped up with "Boys in the Band," "The Good Old Days," and "What a Waster"--huge-sounding songs, with backing vocals from Hassall beefing up the melodies and plenty of Powell's endearingly overdone, tom-heavy drum fills. The encore was even more impassioned, tearing from a snotty version of "Horrorshow" to a blazing "Narcissist" and then into "What Became of the Likely Lads"--one of the brightest spots on The Libertines, where Barat and Doherty trade lines and wonder "What became of forever? We'll never know." Finally the band machine-gunned away that aftertaste of regret with "I Get Along."

Though Barat has proved that he and the band can make it with or without Doherty, he barely seems to have considered whether he could do it without his cowriter in the long run. "I've got a few nice ones on the new record," he says. "But maybe I'll have to. I don't know, we'll see." He may find out sooner than he'd like. Doherty doesn't appear to be making great strides toward recovery. And in September, Babyshambles released a tune online called "Gang of Gin" that calls out both Barat and Alan McGee by name: "I'll tell you my story / The treachery, it bores me / Carl and McGee both promised me / It would not happen this way."

In the Libertines bio at tiscali.co.uk, Mick Jones is quoted as saying, "I think they're the most important band in Britain today." But it's worth remembering that the Clash was hamstrung by drummer Topper Headon's drug problems even as it seemed poised to conquer America with Combat Rock. The Libertines are effectively down a man already, and they don't have anything like London Calling under their belts yet.