Imagine it’s the summer of 1999, and you’re at the last middle school dance. Guys with frosted tips, Abercrombie ringer tees, and chunky bracelets. Chuck Taylors, checkerboard slip-ons and blink-182 hoodies. The local DJ starts his set with the most seminal summer anthem of that year — Smash Mouth’s “All Star.” Everyone knows the words and it’s the perfect sing-along song where the whole school can come together. No matter your clique or friend group, you knew that song by heart. It was the theme of that year.
And while the 9:30 Club is a far cry from a school gymnasium, I picked up on the same cohesive energy on Thursday, January 20 when English indie-rock band The Wombats came to town to kick off their first North American visit since the pandemic. Clad in flannel shirts, washed tees, and skinny jeans, these Liverpudlian rockers hardly resemble their namesake marsupial and have enjoyed solid success since their founding in 2003. These old friends from college have toured the world and are on this side of the pond to celebrate their January 14 release of “Fix Yourself, Then the World” which was just earned the number one release in the UK.
Fans of fellow Liverpool band the Beatles and the Syd Barrett era of Pink Floyd will enjoy lead singer Matthew Murphy’s vocals as pleasant and familiar. While tracks like “Greek Tragedy,” “Turn,” and “This Car Drives All By Itself” are light and melodic, they dabble with more alternative styles. Tracks like “Kill the Director” and “If You Ever Leave, I’m Coming With You” remind me of late 90s alt-rock I used to enjoy, artists like Earth to Andy or Sunbeam. Overall, The Wombats have that sunny disposition but just a hint of hard rock to give it an edge over the sucrose pop that marked the airwaves of the turn of the last century.
One striking thing I noticed was how well the band interacted with their fans. Now I don’t use the term fans lightly. The audience knew all their songs verbatim. I was at a bit of a loss, only learning of The Wombats this year, but it was great to see the audience, as fans, really getting into the show. For some songs, like “Pink Lemonade,” all it took to get the crowd roaring was a chord or two. They knew what song was coming, and the band picked up on this, playing to the crowd’s expectations and enjoyment. They also poked fun at live-performance tropes like the pre-encore walk-off, in which they assured the audience their impending departure would not, truly, be the final one and they would indeed return. And return they did, powering through a few more high-energy tracks before calling it a night.
The Wombats’ future is bright: they’re a solid band, with good technical musical skills, a lively stage presence and a great rapport with the audience. It’s obvious they love what they do, and I think they’ll see a few more number one albums in their future.
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