Curious to see the band in action following the release of their Steve Albini produced debut album 'Slit' last year, I find myself at the Barfly in Camden for their debut London appearance. The band walk onto the stage following a totally incoherent mix of genres by the previous bands and it is obvious that some of the crowd in the half-full room have no idea who Barb Wire Dolls are. If anyone expects a less than convincing performance after seeing Isis carefully, and rather endearingly, place her handbag in a corner of the stage, they could not be more wrong. The very first chords of 'Shut Up Slut' hit you smack-bang in the middle of the face and immediately it is clear that Isis Queen has the full attention of the audience, prowling the stage left, right and centre. 'Don't forget the roots inside of you' she shouts, before the band turn up the gear and launch into 'Walking Dead'.
They play a ferocious version of 'No Compromising' which does its job in getting the crowd going. Three songs in and I am already thinking that this is one hell of a frontwoman, one of the best I have seen in a long while. Full of self-belief and going for it with total abandon, Isis is clearly made for this. 'Teenage Crisis' follows, with feral screams and Isis kneeling on stage, panting into the microphone like a tigress on heat. 'Wild Child Diamonds' gives a little bit of respite from the fiery show so far, and as a prelude to the next frantic track, 'I Wanna Know', Isis is demanding to know 'where your rebellion's gone'. During 'World On Fire' she stands on the kickdrum giving the middle finger to the crowd below her and the pit goes mental. Despite the small crowd she totally owns the place tonight. Mini-speeches dotted inbetween songs, she sounds like a pissed off Patti Smith. She is motivating her troops to be true to themselves and most importantly, to seek freedom, accept no limitations and take no shit.
Pyn Doll is playing double duty on guitar, churning out driving riffs with a set-up that takes good enough a care of the bass simultaneously. He plays as if in a trance throughout the gig, totally immersing himself in the music and repeatedly shouting 'come on!' to the crowd. Krash Doll thrashes the drums with the cymbals needing readjusting every few songs and is dripping in sweat. This band are tight with a capital T. Looking like an angrier, dirtier version of Debbie Harry, Isis Queen is a fully charged up and slightly deranged Duracell bunny with a voice that alternates comfortably with a soft near-whisper and a full-on banshee scream, perfectly showcased in the slower 'Devil's Full Moon'. She jumps in the crowd, clutches onto people, tugs at their shirts and sings at the same time, totally lost in the song. It is a fantastic, emotional performance. During 'Your Escape' the diminutive singer with the big voice teeters along the edge of the stage and gives a couple of slaps to an unsuspecting member of the audience who clearly does not mind one bit. By the time the band play 'Revolution', the floor is shaking by people jumping all over the place and then it is over, with a two-finger salute from Isis. Drenched in sweat and out of breath, she picks up her handbag from the corner and walks off stage.
Before the gig, I did wonder whether having Los Angeles as their abode would have diluted the band's raw, attitude-filled punk DIY ethos, but there is no sign of this whatsoever. Quite the contrary, the music has become much angrier and live it sounds rougher, louder and better than on record. However, it would be wrong to put Barb Wire Dolls in the purist's 'punk box' as the band have much more to offer musically. Punk, grunge, new wave, hard rock, even thrash metal can be heard on their melting pot of an album. But, whatever the musical leanings, it is the unassailable energy of this band that is enough to take your breath away. Seeing Isis manning the merch desk herself at the end of the gig, and Pyn and Krash mingling amongst the crowd before the show, it is obvious these guys are loving every moment of what they do.
They will be finishing their current tour by playing their second London show on Saturday 22nd June at the 100 Club, supporting the legendary GBH. A further European tour follows from August onwards. If Saturday's show is anything like tonight's headline gig at the small capacity Barfly, be prepared to be bulldozed by the band's grab-you-by-the-balls raging energy. To the doubters? Go and see for yourself.