The first time I saw The Wombats live was in 2015 at the Reading Festival in the U.K. It’s a sort of rite of passage, at least for private school students in London, to spend three days after GCSE (the first set of big public exams for British students) results come out camped out in the mud, going to see as many different artists as possible, getting no sleep and spending as much money on bad food-truck food as you can.
While Mumford & Sons and The Libertines acted as strong book-ending headliners on Friday and Sunday, respectively, for some reason Metallica was the chosen headliner for Saturday. Unsurprisingly this sent a lot of people to other stages. Luckily The Wombats took their place on the Festival Republic Stage (for reference, this was the fifth out of seven stages listed on the line up), and people literally flocked to their performance.
As the biography for their most recent album, Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life, put it, “Wombats fans. Thousands of ‘em. The Reading & Leeds promoter checking his onsite heat-tracking app was stunned to discover hordes of fans descending en masse on the Festival Republic Stage set like an alien swarm, one of the biggest stage-rushes of the 2015 festival.”
Having been there I can say it truly was the most people I had seen at any stage throughout the festival; people were pouring out of the back of the tent their stage was propped up in.
Their performance was, at least for me, one of the best of the whole weekend. So needless to say, when I heard that the band would be coming to Baltimore, my excitement levels were at an all-time high. I may have messaged all my friends and family back home to tell them I was going to see them in concert; I had a lot of jealous friends and a very excited Aussie mom — wombats are native to Australia.
I had very high expectations for their performance at Rams Head Live! not only because of my fond memories from the first time I saw them live, but also because of how much I love their latest album, which came out in February of this year. They did not disappoint.
Barns Courtney, an English folk/blues-y pop singer who I had never heard of before but who has over two million monthly listeners on Spotify, opened the concert. While I imagine a lot of the audience also hadn’t heard his music before, his enthusiasm, energy and stage presence more than made up for it. He managed to get the whole crowd singing along to songs that most hadn’t even heard before. He lied down on the stage at one point, grabbed the hand of someone near the stage and didn’t let go for a solid 30 seconds and even jumped into the crowd toward the end, getting everyone to squat down and jump up together at the same time.
He took his performance to extremes at certain points, but he did a really great job of hyping the crowd up and getting everyone ready for The Wombats. He was a fun opener, and I’ve added at least three of his songs to my regular Spotify playlist — I would highly recommend listening to “Fire” and “Glitter & Gold” if you need some new pump-up songs.
After an awkwardly long period of time the crowd kind of calmed down again — aside from one guy who seemed to know the lyrics to every single song that was played.
The band opened with a bang and quickly got the energy back up again with the first song on their most recent album, “Cheetah Tongue.” As with most of the songs on the album, the song is lyrically quirky and clever — something that has become a hallmark of the band. But what really stood out was just how fun their performance was.
Throughout the performance they switched between playing songs from their latest album and songs from previous ones which were clear crowd pleasers. Their three most famous songs, “Let’s Dance To Joy Division,” “Moving to New York” and “Techno Fan” were peppered throughout, often acting as a way to hit the crowd with a bit of energy after slightly slower songs such as, “I Don’t Know Why I Like You but I Do,” which, despite giving bassist Tord Øverland Knudsen perfect opportunities for some really great guitar solos, undoubtedly slowed down the pace of the show.
This would’ve been fine and wanted, even, given the energetic nature of so many of their other songs, but the slow changeovers between songs meant that this became quite tired at times. As drummer Dan Haggis notes, “Some of these changeovers aren’t as slick as they should be,” the constant guitar changes clearly slowing them down. He joked that Steve, their toy squirrel that lives above the drum kit, didn’t help out much.
Both Haggis and lead vocalist and guitarist Matthew Murphy threw in funny comments before and after songs, adding a lovely personal element to their performance. Murphy provided witty comments, saying, “This is a really good song!” before they played “Bee-Sting,” their latest single they dropped this August, which will be featured on the extended version of their upcoming album. This album will be released on Nov. 9 along with an acoustic cover of “Lethal Combination” and a new song “Oceans.” However, he also provided interesting pieces of insight into other songs, explaining that “Pink Lemonade” was written after he went to Barcelona and spent the whole time convinced that his then girlfriend back in London was off having sex with other people. “Basically in my head she was off having an orgy in London on drugs. Turns out she wasn’t, and I was just a chode,” he explained.
One of the highlights of the show had to be their performance of their most famous song, “Let’s Dance To Joy Division,” which I would have expected to be the last song. I think Murphy knew people would expect this and said, “We’re gonna pretend that this is our last song, but it’s absolutely not.” The energy in the room was incredible, and this doubled when four people dressed in wombat costumes walked onto the stage and danced. I’m not joking: Four human-sized wombats walked around the stage dancing throughout the song and then at the end the band followed them off stage.
After a brief pause, Murphy then came back on stage alone with a guitar and stood center stage. He said that when he first met his wife she turned to him and said, “Fuck, we’re a lethal combination” and proceeded to sing “Lethal Combination,” which was beautiful and a great contrast to the wild song that had come before.
They ended the show by saying that the last time they played in Baltimore they had just been to a Thanksgiving with some friends in D.C. and they all had really bad hangovers, “So we feel like we’ve put it to rights tonight.” I wasn’t at that performance, but it was definitely all I wanted from them, and I can’t wait for the release of their extended album.