Liverpool natives, The Wombats, fresh off the release of their latest indie pop album Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life, brought their energetic live show to Auckland’s Powerstation last night. It was a hectic performance full of quirky marsupial and fruit-themed lyrics, as well as stories of love, loss, and desperation that still haven’t got old - eleven years after their 2007 debut, A Guide To Love, Loss & Desperation.
Dunedin-born and Auckland-based indie band Ha the Unclear, was the opening act. They took to the stage at exactly 8pm with short screeches leaping nervously from their guitars before they jumped straight into their breakneck set that consisted of tracks from their 2018 album, Invisible Lines. Drummer Ben Sargeant kept a cool, almost sleepy demeanour as he held the quartet in time. Bassist Paul Cathro was the standout member... his flamboyant performance brought a grin to the faces of several people around me, and brought a confidence to the band’s act that really made their music soar.
My only previous experience of Ha the Unclear was a drunken acoustic set in a Ponsonby cafe by frontman Michael Cathro. So, it was a wonderful surprise to find out that they actually rocked with pointedly nervous vocal delivery and quirky lyrics over harsh and groovy instrumentation. Many of their songs ended with an extended jam that really let the audience lock in with the band’s sound... and after each song, they received a larger cheer. Sargeant knocked over a cymbal so casually that he shocked himself out of his chill persona just before the abrupt ending of the band's final song. Before a chance to breathe or blink, Cathro shouted “Hi, we are Ha the Unclear!” and the band walked briskly offstage, leaving people hungry for more.
While roadies changed over instruments... a man from Lincoln with a thick English accent said to one of my friends’ friends “Are you from here? How the fuck do you know The Wombats?” He seemed perplexed and thrilled that people outside of Britain knew his local band - this did beg the question, why was he here?
The Wombats took to the stage to happy cheers... it felt like every single person in the room was in a childish good mood. They ripped right into the lead single from the new album, Cheetah Tongue... a pop anthem that from the get-go had everyone jumping up and down and screaming the words.
“We’re The Wombats from London, UK.” said singer & guitarist Matthew Murphy, “This is our first ever show in New Zealand.” Frontman duties seemed to be split between Murphy and drummer Dan Haggis, who chimed in with “We’ve been asking our promoters if we can tour this part of the world for a long time... so we made it!”
By the time they reached fan-favourite, Techno Fan, from This Modern Glitch, the energetic performance the band had effortlessly pulled off so far left bassist, Tord Øverland Knudsen, with his fringe plastered to his forehead with sweat.
Introducing The Wombats’ songs to a live setting made them so much heavier than I ever could have expected. What were slow and sappy ballads on albums became booming breakdowns of synth-driven post-punk when heard at that volume and played with such defiance. Strangely The Wombats were at their peak when they 'pretend' to play in a head-banging style. Watching other people lose themselves in dancing and grooving to the music was almost as fun as watching the band.
The Wombats were still at the top of their game... having so much infectious fun playing their songs that you cannot help but enjoy yourself. It must take so much energy to muster up the pure joy and youthful purpose in the way Murphy delivered every single line.
The crowd turned into pure electricity for the last four songs before the encore... the undeniable hits Moving To New York, Jump Into The Fog, Tokyo (Vampires & Wolves), and Let’s Dance To Joy Division. Tokyo reached the height of excitement when giant round balloons were let loose into the crowd... the small interior of the Powerstation turned into an outdoor festival. Joy Division, in turn, reached the height of silliness when two people in head-to-toe wombat suits ran onto the stage to dance around.
“Couldn't wish for a better first show in this country or this city. We're coming back y'all!” Shouted Murphy before leaping into their final track Greek Tragedy.
The band left the stage... the crowd stopped cheering and started to dissipate. Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al blared over the speakers and my new friends and I were left dancing to an 80s classic on the brightly lit, empty cup covered venue floor - what a perfect picture of the youthful messy joy that The Wombats convey!