For concertgoers at San Francisco’s Regency Ballroom on Monday night, the three-day weekend was the perfect opportunity to be back on their feet dancing. The Wombats, the Liverpool group known for zany, indie-rock-leaning pop songs, drew a crowd of staunch fans ready for the band’s high-energy live show.
The three-piece, consisting of frontman and guitarist Matthew Murphy, bassist Tord Øverland Knudsen and drummer Dan Haggis, has been enjoying an all-time career high. The tongue-and-cheek British post-punk ruckus of the band’s earlier work has been scaled back for a brighter, even more direct sound practically designed to get every person in a room to move. At The Regency Ballroom, a venue that offers closer physical proximity between artist and listener, the band was given the perfect opportunity to work its charm.
The Wombats’ stint in San Francisco was one of the final nights of its North American tour in support of the new LP Fix Yourself, Not The World, the band’s first release to top charts as the United Kingdom’s No. 1 album. Supported by up-and-coming alternative opener Clubhouse, the band made the most of the venue, energizing the entire crowd with its winning sonic formula: a simple, high-intensity guitar/bass/drum barrage carrying earworm melodies determined to enter listeners’ brains and never leave.
The band took the stage just after 9 p.m., diving straight into its latest album-opener “Flip Me Upside Down,” mobilizing the crowd as soon as the music began to play and maintaining complete control as the set powered through recent singles and fan favorites. The ebb and flow of the set list seemed to be of little concern to the band and the audience, too. It made no difference if the band was singing about illegal techno raves or dancing to Joy Division — the punchy, high-impact immediacy of the music was undeniable.
The pull of the band’s sound allowed The Wombats to overcome an unusual pairing of onstage personalities. Murphy largely remained in place, delivering a reliable vocal performance while churning out power chords in rapid succession on guitar and piano. Murphy’s stage presence contrasted Knudsen’s erratic movements, with the latter playing bass and jumping around as if he was in Blink-182.
The band was less successful in executing more electronic-heavy songs; the drum-pad sounds during “Pink Lemonade” failed to inspire the same kind of thrall. The slower-tempo encore track “Method to the Madness” failed to restart the set’s momentum — further evidence that The Wombats’ live show works best when it locks onto a very specific, high-energy frequency and refuses to stray. At its worst, the overly safe and homogenous set (played with little to no variation throughout the band’s tour thus far) gave credence to frequent descriptions of the band’s music as “landfill indie.”
Amid the predictability, some of the other live show elements failed to make sense. The drum kit was perched atop a platform that could be described as a big ol’ Rubik’s Cube, and two furry Wombat mascots (which this writer initially mistook for Oski the Bear) made guest appearances. They danced around the stage and balcony with red trumpets to roaring applause but felt more like a confusing distraction as opposed to an exciting addition to the set. Perhaps this chaos was apt for a show where the crowd could be seen going wild to songs with ridiculously silly hooks about Bridget Jones and bringing lemons to knife fights.
While admittedly one-note, to call The Wombats show boring would be far from the truth. The dedicated crowd remained engaged and largely unfazed through the set’s lows, erupting into fervor every time the band fell back into their groove. Closing out the show in a blaze of glory with “Tokyo (Vampires and Wolves),” as well as “Greek Tragedy” — the band’s TikTok viral track off of 2015’s Glitterbug — was the most predictable, yet enjoyable choice The Wombats could make.
Contact Vincent Tran at [email protected].