London's SSE Arena, Wembley
Hello Wombley! Or so Matthew ‘Murph’ Murphy has dubbed this illustrious hall of legend for the night, refusing to let the weight of the occasion crush the dolorous cartoonism that has got The Wombats to this landmark show in the first place. “Tonight we’re in Wombley,” he declares to a crowd of “fucking heroes” so riotously celebrating the arrival of Liverpool’s unlikeliest arena band that there were circle pits to Blaenavon’s blistering support set, and goes about stamping his own cuddly indie synth-noir mark on Elton’s outhouse.
Confetti cannons explode over the fireball disco of ‘Cheetah Tongue’ within the first few seconds. Wombats abound all night, filling screens, popping out of Joy Division sleeves, invading the stage, flying overhead. An atmosphere of kids let loose overnight in some hallowed museum of rock prevails, and if tonight marks the ascent of the algorithm as cultural kingmaker – The Wombats credit a significant proportion of their recent rampant rise to streaming sites pointing impressionable fans of The 1975 towards their non-single album track ‘Greek Tragedy’ – then the hard-partying youth bouncing front to back make it seem like the most organic indie-pop triumph imaginable.
The Wombats, too, seem unfazed by the big league. Their hooks have always been designed to fit through club doors but expand to arena size at the tug of a pressure-cord, right back to the dayglo-Bloc Party days of ‘Moving To New York’ and ‘Kill The Director’, both of which send Wombley into thrashing paroxysms. And as their synths have taken on more calculated radio tones – they’ve even got a few of those EDM bits that sound like a digital ball-bearing bouncing down Calvin Harris’s toilet, like Coldplay and Bastille use these days – their themes have become more mass-relatable. Where once Murph relived specific personal/fictional hells – slapped at indie discos, falling for strippers, sitting through shit rom-coms – his more recent pop noirs speak to the everyman. ‘Jump Into The Fog’ might detail a squalid one-night-stand, as sordid and regretful as its synthetic squelches, but at heart it’s about our urge to make a blind leap into degradation, just to know what it’s like. Tracks like 2015’s ‘Glitterbug’ or ‘Lemon To A Knife Fight’ and the neurotic, Duran-like ‘White Eyes’, from last year’s Top Three fourth album ‘Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life’ (preach), might directly concern Murph’s marital rows, depressive freak-outs and bouts of “Vicodin on Sunday night”, but with an emotional scope and inclusivity that only Elmo couldn’t see itself in them.
Critically, these are dark and demon-stalked songs made such immense fun that you’d think you were at the world indoor shirt-flinging championships. During the drop-down middle-eight of ‘Black Flamingo’, a kind of twisted ‘Coffee & TV’, a circle waltz breaks out in the crowd. ‘Techno Fan’ and ‘Emoticons’ – a stunning ode to the complexities of modern communication that makes The 1975 look like they’re still wrestling with morse code – are both storm-bringing synthpop wonders, and The Wombats have learnt some arena tricks en route to Wombley. ‘Ice Cream’ boasts some rafter-melting riffage, inflatable bubbles fill the room for ‘Tokyo (Vampires & Wolves)’, a team of wombats invade the stage to ‘…Dance To Joy Division’ and Murph even has a successful crack at the traditional, lighter-bathed solo acoustic ballad with a shiver inducing ‘Lethal Combination’. Come the climax of ‘Greek Tragedy’, a wombat playing a guitar flies down from the lighting rig in a confetti tornado. Arena rock just got a whole lot less serious.