WHERE: John Cain Arena, Naarm/Melbourne VIC
WHEN: Friday June 10th, 2022
REVIEW: Ellie Robinson
It felt weird to watch The Wombats play an indoor venue. Before tonight we’d never seen the British indie-rockers at their own show, but we’ve seen them countless times at festivals like Falls, Field Day, Groovin The Moo, Splendour In The Grass, Yours & Owls, Spilt Milk… Pretty much every one in the country, really. But there’s a reason why they’re so beloved in that unique festival atmosphere: their music is inescapably fun, their energy is infectiously affable, and their lowkey setup means the vibe steals the spotlight, not the spectacle.
So ahead of their first, headliner-exclusive trip Down Under in three years – a lengthy gap when you consider that before then, they’d visited at least once a year since 2010 – the question loomed: could The Wombats keep us entertained when they’re all there is to entertain us?
Before learning the answer, we were treated to some canapés in the form of Brisbane alt-pop trailblazer Jaguar Jonze – an interview with whom you’ll find on page 26 – and English indie-popstar Alfie Templeman. Flanked by her three-piece backing band, the former stormed out with her eyes wide and soul alight. She wasted no time in stirring up a storm, cutting right to the point with the fiery, riot grrrl-adjacent ‘Who Died And Made You King?’.
Other cuts from debut LP Bunny Mode – ‘Cut’ and ‘Trigger Happy’ being two notable standouts – made for walloping inclusions; they were too new for the packed crowd to elicit singalongs (which is fair – the album was still a week away at this point), but performing them with a kind of raw, unrelenting energy that’s impossible to fake, Deena Lynch and co. virtually demanded we all at least dance to them.
Lynch appeared onstage without her signature blue Telecaster, but thanks to touring bandmate Joe Fallon, there was no shortage of slick, swaggering riffs to be enamoured by. He shined especially bright in the set’s closing number, a cover of Nirvana’s classic ’93 hit ‘Heart Shaped Box’ that Lynch reinvented into an alt-pop scorcher that stunningly straddled the line between radiant and sleazy. Our prediction is that by her third album, Jaguar Jonze will be headlining venues like the 10,000-capacity John Cain Arena.
By the time he and his band breezed into the first chorus of the silky, yet striking ‘3D Feelings’, it was obvious that Alfie Templeman was perfect for this tour. His head-turning brand of soulful, groove-inflected indie-pop went down a treat, duly hyping the crowd with his frenetic noodling and swoon-worthy vocal runs, but keeping things just restrained enough that it never felt too bubblegummy. He offered a feeling of reprieve after Jaguar Jonze’s belting intensity, but he was lively enough to set a bright and bubbly mood for The Wombats to revel in.
In five short years, Templeman’s released one full-length album, seven EPs, and a record that sits somewhere in-between the two formats – all before the age of 20, no less. As proved by his short ’n’ sweet showcase on this arena stage, his prolificacy certainly doesn’t come at the expense of his talent – if only there wasn’t a curfew so he could have the four-hour set he deserved.
Speaking of acts that deserve as much time onstage as they damn well please, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Wombats fan willing to complain about their sprawling setlists. The Liverpudlian trio don’t seem to believe in the concept of “filler songs” – the shortest break they’ve had between records lasted three years, but the trade-off is that none of them bore for even a second – so with five full albums worth of bangers to pluck from, it stands to reason that they’d need a rather lengthy set. Billed for 90 minutes, they ended up playing for closer to two hours, squeezing in all the hits from their first four albums amid a measured showcase of cuts from their latest, January’s Fix Yourself, Not The World.
The same way they start the record, ‘Flip Me Upside Down’ and ‘This Car Drives All By Itself’ started the set by setting the tone for what would be to come: a lot of sugary, high-octane indie jammage, but just as much suave, pseudo-mature rock’n’rollery. ‘Ready For The High’ was a key example of the latter – and worked perfectly as a tailer for ‘Cheetah Tongue’ off 2018’s Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life – while tucked at the bottom of the set, ‘If You Ever Leave, I’m Coming With You’ offered oodles of luminous, life-affirming buoyancy.
The Wombats themselves were in fine shape. Matt Murphy has this kind of easygoing disposition – neither blithesome nor blasé, but somewhere in the middle – that makes him an interesting frontman; he cares enough about his crowd to indulge them in quick quips of banter between songs, but doesn’t let the grinding pursuit of being personable impede on his performance. That was certainly the case tonight, although he did seem a little more relaxed than usual – almost every song in the set was given a lighthearted note of context, and he freely traded jokes with bassist Tord Knudsen and Dan Haggis.
As a trio, the band have an impressively wide-ranging tonal palette. This can spell trouble in a live show – especially when that palette diversifies in different ways between albums, and the setlist spreads songs from them evenly throughout (ie. exactly this set) – but The Wombats’ performance never faltered because Murphy, Knudsen and Haggis all worked to each other’s strengths. Songs with more demanding vocal runs shone with Knudsen’s twangy, rounded basslines, while the more energised cuts had Haggis cutting sick at 110 percent.
It may have lacked the tight and twinkly revelry of a festival set, but with no restraints to what they were capable of, The Wombats delivered an overall fantastic show. It’s without a doubt they’ll make a prompt return to outdoor stages and golden-hour sets – but the next time they do, we might just head along to a sideshow as well. The Wombats at a festival are a bit of a different beast to The Wombats in a room done up just for them – their natural habitat, if you will – and as we were relieved to learn tonight, both are just as wonderful.