The Wombats Rock the O.C.
It was 11 p.m., and the crowd was getting restless. The fact that there must have been close to 200 of us in a room slightly bigger than this unfolded newspaper didn’t help. That, as well as the fact that the broken air conditioner left everyone in 97-degree heat and sweating enough to make a kiddie pool on the floor. (The heat being the target of many jokes that night. In particular, when The Wombats greeted everyone by saying, “You seem like a very warm audience.”)
Then, it happened. The band came out, and as soon as the drummer ticked off a beat on his sticks, it was pure magic.
The Wombats, originally from Liverpool (the city home to The Beatles), played at Santa Ana’s Constellation Room on October 2, and it was fucking beautiful. If you’re one of the many people that lost their faith in true musicians existing in a sea of generic, electronic dribble, pick up The Wombats’ latest album, “This Modern Glitch,” and prepare to be born again.
The band, consisting of Matthew Murphy (lead guitar/lead vocals, keyboard), Dan Haggis (drums, backing vocals/rad harmonica player) and Tord Overlord-Knudson (Bass guitar, guitar, keyboard, backing vocals), played a blistering 13-song set, plus an additional two-song encore. What was particularly appealing for the fans was the fact that the English trio played popular songs off all of their albums, as opposed to just their most recent.
More importantly though, while some bands tend to lose steam after the first hour or so, The Wombats’ energy and power just never stopped. It was like watching a freight train. And, in proper Wombats style, Murphy ironically punctuated each song with a sheepish “Thank you.” Occasionally, Murphy would dedicate a song to someone like his mother (or Liam Neeson, at one point), and would then go on to play songs like “Patricia the Stripper.” You know, because what’s a show without comedy?
Before the performance, Haggis and Murphy sat down to discuss some of their music, creative process and how they got where they are now. Some may notice the distinctly more mature sound in albums like “This Modern Glitch” and “A Guide to Love, Loss & Desperation.”
“We were just working out our sounds back then,” Haggis said. “Our first album was just collections of three years of songs we liked. It was hard for the second album because we worked from scratch.”
While their songs now seem more fleshed out and less generic than their earliest EPs, the band still manages to keep their trademark sound and style. What may be their most interesting signature in their songs is the juxtaposition of pairing a very depressing story with an upbeat tune. This is evident in “Little Miss Pipedream,” which the audience absolutely loved. Murphy jokes that the happy sound comes from the other two band members and the depressive lyrics come from his misery.
Perhaps, the most impressive feat The Wombats accomplish, is not going for the “easy” song. Murphy himself said that he doesn’t give a shit about writing for a specific demographic. It’s about making a good song, and that’s what counts.
The Wombats have consistently written lyrics that have a real depth to them. It’s not unusual, according to the band, for them to get emails from fans talking about how songs like “Anti-D” proved vital toward getting through tough times. This is one of the reasons why “Anti-D” holds such significance to Murphy; he feels like he has “given something back to the world.”
Interestingly enough, Murphy and Haggis note that they never really know what songs will be hits. Sometimes, they work hard on a song, and it never even makes it to the A-side of a record. Dan points out that in other times, like in the case of “Jump into the Fog,” “We don’t think it’ll be big. Then, all of the sudden, it’s huge.”
At the end of the interview, when asked the question, “How has your band changed over the years?” a coy smile appeared from beneath Murphy’s carefully tousled hair.
“We used to be crap, and now we’re just less crap.” Murphy and Haggis chuckle to themselves.
While I’m normally pretty tough on live bands, I have to say, The Wombats raised the bar. I apologize in advance to any bands I may see in the future because it will be tough to beat this trio. They’ll be playing some gigs around Southern California for the next month, and if you have the chance to go see them, do it. You won’t regret it. They were, by far, one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, and just the nicest guys around. Gold stars, boys. Gold stars.