Special Needs, The Barbs, Tom Harpoon

Anthony Baldacci 04/06/2005

It's always obvious when a “London” band that's on a label comes to play a gig at venues like this (i.e., outside London) because every wannabe scenester within 20 miles turns up sporting their symmetrical haircuts and faded leather jackets, and tonight is no exception what with Special Needs playing.
The evening kicks of with relative newcomer and local type Tom Harpoon. A solo acoustic, singer-songwriter type chap who seems to have captured the haunting melody down to a tee and his lyrics have an edge of the surreal. It's a bit like watching an anti-folk performance of Clockwork Orange but perhaps with less ultra-violence and more ponytails. It's really very enjoyable, but you can't help but feel that it's somewhat out of place.

This may well be because following on from Mr. Harpoon are The Barbs. A 4 piece from all over the place (including a devilishly attractive female singer/guitarist from Australia) but base themselves in the local area. Having seen The Barbs before I know what to expect, which is pure and simple, bollock-crushing, rock 'n' fuckin' roll! Well, that and quirky pop hooks all mixed in with an ever-so-pleasant dash of tandem vocals from front pair Tim and Amy. They are quite simply nothing short of breathtaking, visceral and exhilarating. They are entirely the antidote to the recent plethora of tedious, repetitive Wire derivatives. I thoroughly advise people to go and see them and also buy their debut LP “Lupine Peroxide”. Best few quid you'll spend for a while, honest. Oh, and they're at Glasto this year, get in.

Headliners tonight are the much-publicised Special Needs who take to the stage with rapturous applause from the group of giggling fan-girls at the front and to eager gazes from the super-fashionista indie troupe surrounding me. This is what they've been waiting for and you can tell they intend to enjoy it. And enjoy it they do, with the gaggle of girls at the front going particularly mental for (what appears to be) crowd favourite “Martin's In A Fix”. It's all very upbeat, indie-pop and the sort of stuff that's usually very entertaining, but it just isn't really. It's possibly because of unfamiliarity with the material or that the sound wasn't quite right, or even that The Barbs simply over-shadowed them (this is the most likely), but they didn't capture the imagination in anyway. Kudos to the singer (Zach is it?) for leaning into the crowd and trying to play the showman, but musically it was all a little bit lacklustre. I'm informed that this isn't usually the case but it certainly was here. The music lacked energy, urgency or even anything resembling something you'd expect to hear being played on a car stereo. Bit disappointing really, but still, The Barbs were ace, eh?