It’s been twelve years since the release of one of The Wombats’ greatest singles, “Let’s Dance to Joy Division”, and longer still since they premiered their first hit, “Moving to New York”. With this in mind, it’s staggering that the band was able to draw a sell-out crowd to one of Birmingham’s most popular city-centre venues on a cold night in January.
The support acts – ‘The Night Café’ and ‘Blaenavon’ – kicked off the evening with an indie-rock vibe that felt inspired by the headline act; a collection of tracks composed of syncopated, moderate-tempo beats and catchy guitar riffs that were easy to dance along to.
With over half an hour to go before the main event, the stalls were all-but-full, and the balcony was packed. The build-up to the opening song, “Cheetah Tongue”, was fuelled by the animation projected onto the rear of the stage – a sleeping cartoon wombat, whose eyes opened more frequently as the start of the set approached.
Suddenly, the lights dimmed, and smoke filled the stage. A clichéd entrance, for sure, but it worked. The audience erupted with a mighty roar as the band took their positions. The rather understated opening to “Cheetah Tongue” resonated through the venue, and within seconds the Academy was buzzing with energy. The band threw two more high-energy anthems at the crowd in quick succession – “Moving To New York” and “Jump Into The Fog”, with the former filling listeners with a wave of nostalgia. Throughout the set, a flurry of animations appeared behind the band.
The frontman, Matthew Murphy, shared a few musings with the crowd in between every other song. The jovial remarks made the experience more personal and entertaining, as Murphy, Dan Haggis (drums), and Tord Øverland Knudsen (bass guitar) genuinely appeared to enjoy themselves, something which they emphasised multiple times during their set. Murphy’s comments also revealed details about the origins of some of the songs. “Lemon To A Knife Fight”, for example, was inspired by Murphy’s tiffs with his wife (which he claimed he never won).
The middle of the set was arguably the weakest period – some of the tracks from the newest album, ‘Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life’, don’t have the same intricate layering and catchy hooks as their older material, but were entertaining regardless. The set ended with four of their punchiest hits: “Techno Fan”; “Your Body Is A Weapon”; “Tokyo (Vampires and Wolves)”; and “Let’s Dance To Joy Division”, with the crowd belting the words to each and every one of them without hesitation. Amusingly, a collection of human-sized wombats joined the band onstage and danced during the final number. Ending on a high, the band left the stage to continuous chants of “We want more!”.
And we got more. After what seemed like an eternity, Murphy returned to the stage. A sea of phone torches waving slowly accompanied a beautiful acoustic rendition of “Lethal Combination”, a version found only on the Extended Version of their most recent album. Haggis and Knudsen joined Murphy for the final two tracks in the encore, “Turn” and “Greek Tragedy”. The encore was arguably the highlight of the performance, and left the audience feeling euphoric. An impressive and engaging performance from a band that’s been around as long as I’ve been in full-time education.
The Wombats continue their tour into Europe with almost a dozen concerts on the continent in February and March, an appearance at Southside Festival in June, and two final UK dates in Manchester and Reading in July and August respectively.