The Wombats: Live in Nottingham – 9th January 2022. Includes review of “Fix Yourself, Not The World” by EJ Scanlan
The Wombats. One of the UK’s most talked-about indie bands. Forming in Liverpool in 2003, the band have released four albums (three of those reaching the Top 5), have become festival favourites and their two singles “Moving To New York” and “Let’s Dance To Joy Division” are on every indie party playlist. It’s fair to say they’re a big player in the UK alternative indie scene.
On Friday, The Wombats are due to release their fifth studio album, “Fix Yourself, Not The World”, and it’s fair to say that they really are going in on the promotion as they’re doing a whole tour (as well as their full arena tour in April) to promote the record, trying to get that coveted Number 1 spot on the UK Album Charts, where the closest they were able to get was Number 3.
Today, in a musical first for me, I’m seeing the same band TWICE in one day, as TotalNtertainment has got me access to both of their shows in Nottingham. The first is a small acoustic show at Rough Trade, and the second is tonight when they play The Level (aka – Nottingham Trent University’s Student Union) to play some very intimate shows. I’m intrigued to see how they promote the record, how the record sounds, both live and how it could come across on record, but I’m also wanting them to pay homage to their history as a band, hearing all the big bangers that they’ve made a household name of themselves with.
Rough Trade (Acoustic Show)
I don’t know what I was expecting from this show, but the trio performed four tracks, all four singles from the record. The first of the tracks was “Ready For The High”, which had a gorgeous acoustic sound through it, and it created a beautiful soundscape. The band chemistry was flawless all the way through, with great harmonies and nice use of piano. Lead vocalist, Matthew Murphy’s vocals sounded intimate, but was quite off vocally, a trend that carried on through “Method To The Madness”, which was incredibly poor live. The first two-thirds of the song was executed disappointingly by the whole band, but the bridge was done very well indeed, with the build-up feeling incredibly tense yet atmospheric, with the backing vocals in that final section being the highlight of the track’s run time.
After improvising a short section of music while waiting for water, they went into “If You Ever Leave, I’m Coming With You”, which had a terrible false start, but after restarting, sounded great. The crowd singing along to the lyrics gave me goosebumps, which showed off the intimacy of the set. Having said that, something felt quite off about the performance, though I can’t tell exactly what, though I do know that the backing vocals and Murphy’s were out of time, which wasn’t a great move. Before heading into the final depressingly titled track, “Everything I Love Is Going To Die”, they go on to talk about the weather and how crap it’s been over the last week. But this was the best track I’ve heard from them throughout the set. Murphy’s vocals were great throughout and the band chemistry was a real highlight. I appreciate that it’s not the greatest song in the world, but acoustically, it sounded gorgeous, like a completely different song, and it was gorgeous to watch.
So from this mini-acoustic set, we’ve established why The Wombats don’t do a lot of acoustic shows, despite it having some great highlights, but I guess this is because they’re a great live band once they have all of their instruments together, but time will tell…
The Level (Full Set)
After the disappointing acoustic show, I was anticipating seeing what The Wombats had in store for their full band set. The expectation was high, everyone was beyond excited about their fifth album, but the overall show was… well… see for yourself…
The band played their new album, “Fix Yourself, Not The World” in its entirety, an exciting prospect for any Wombats fan, and they started with the beyond terrible opening track, “Flip Me Upside Down”. On the surface, the track sounded like a bog-standard indie track, but its execution was boring with the band’s lack of stage presence and the real off vocals from Matthew Murphy continuing even more so, with some beyond awful vocals from drummer Dan Haggis, this was just a mess from start to finish, with the crowd not reacting too well to it either. Moving onto “This Car Drives All By Itself”, those bad vocals from Murphy and Haggis continue, with bassist Tord Øverland Knudsen not singing, but shouting to the song, making it sound just terrible. The song itself is another bland indie song, with the guitar section of the track towards the end sounding pretty good and executed mediocrely.
“If You Ever Leave, I’m Coming With You”, the first of the singles from the album, was played next, and the song itself is definitely a good time while intoxicated, but live, once again, is incredibly disappointing. The track was performed averagely, with nothing particularly special about it at all, the only addition the performance had was the pretty horrific vocals from Matthew Murphy, I’m not at all impressed and they’re showing themselves up to be just another basic white straight indie band. Having said that, I did enjoy that the crowd reliving the lyric “throw a banquet in a mosh pit” by trying (and failing) to start one, pushing a lot of people in the process (bonus points if someone does this at a future show and you eat food at the same time! If anyone is daft enough to do this, please direct message me with a video of it on Instagram, @ejscanlan). Then performing the second single from the record, “Ready For The High”, we finally got a glimmer of hope! The rocky guitar sections of the track sounded great live with some good band chemistry, but it was then ruined by bad vocals and the fact that Murphy forgot the lyrics during the second verse and didn’t recover at all. And to make that seem even weirder, while I was filming a video of the song for my notes, out of nowhere, a man dressed up as a wombat comes onto stage… It shocked me dearly. I felt like Jayne from Big Brother 17 and said to my friend: “Am I on drugs? Am I on drugs”? It honestly shook me. It was so out there and weird and had no actual relevance to the show, and said wombat played a fake trumpet and looked clueless. It’s as if Mr Blobby randomly interrupted a BBC News broadcast, why? I still can’t believe it happened and I can’t even believe I’m writing this. Without that video evidence, I genuinely would have believed I was on crack. I can’t even make it up even if I tried. A man dressed as a wombat? I’m aware that they’ve used them before, but in the past, there’s been more and they’ve been used better, but dear God, it was like I was at a hippie parent’s child’s birthday party.
So after a disastrous opening, the band (now without Wombat Man) had a real opportunity to recover this atrocious show with their performance of the lead single to “Fix Yourself, Not The World”, “Method To The Madness”. The original track is a great indie song with a sensational finale, this was going to be how they could save this show. Did they? Nope. The performance was as basic as performances go, Murphy’s vocals were off once again, so much so that it sounded painful, and the whole band sounded so bland, even with that final section, which could have been as impressive and cinematic as the main track is, but it wasn’t executed well and it was heavily covered-up by the lighting and visuals. It was one of the highlights of the show, because of the crowd and their phenomenal mosh pit and energy, to which Murphy said afterwards: “that was a beautiful mosh guys, thank you”, and it was so beautiful that I don’t even think this performance was worthy of it. Track 6 is titled “People Don’t Change People, Time Does” and this was one of the strongest tracks on the setlist. On record, I think it would sound fantastic, as this is a gorgeous cutesy indie anthem, with Murphy’s guitar work being sublime, but once again, his vocals were shit and incredibly off, so it ruined the experience of the track for me, unfortunately, which is a shame because the track could’ve been a great experience if it wasn’t for those below-par vocals.
“Everything I Love Is Going To Die” was the highlight of The Wombats acoustic show earlier today, but the performance of the same track tonight wasn’t good. The vocals were flat once again, notes were missed, the lack of stage presence, made a bland song even blander. It’s funny that a stripped back version of the song works a hundred times better than the original. And then “Work Is Easy, Life Is Hard” once again wasted a tonne of potential. The instrumentation was okay towards the start, but the last section of the song was produced incredibly. It had this real nostalgic New Order sound to it, which I wanted to see more of throughout this album and is something I recommend the band look at doing more of in the future. And as soon as I have something good to talk about, its once again ruined by Matthew Murphy’s terribly flat, out of tune vocals, which are really starting to grate on me now, because the main issue with this set is with him and his vocals, and despite there being issues with all three members, his vocals have consistently been off, and that’s ruining the entire show for me.
Moving onto the god-awful track, “Wildfire”, the only good thing I can say about it is that it’s catchy, but not necessarily in a good way. The song felt annoying, from its terribly written and produced verses to the clichéd chorus of Murphy singing “teenage wildfire”, the song didn’t have anything, and when it did, with a tension-building bridge, that was completely wasted with an anticlimactic unsatisfying climax. It’s such a shame, and that shame continues with the naughties inspired indie song “Don’t Poke The Bear”, as these are ideas that are executed poorly. The nostalgia sounding song wasn’t the main issue here, however; it was the vocals, which were worse than ever. Murphy was attempting to channel Thom Yorke in a Radiohead inspired indie-pop song, and the attempt fell flat on its arse with Murphy sounding like the bear he’s telling us not to poke but we’re poking it anyway.
“Worry” is somewhat the final track on “Fix Yourself, Not The World”, and in a lot of ways, I was glad, because what we heard so far wasn’t good at all. “Worry” has the tools to be a great indie banger, but never lifts off the ground. So much is missing from the track, including the energy, and as a result, it feels like a half-arsed attempt at an indie song. As the crowd cheer and the band clear the stage, we then hear the final track on the album, “Fix Yourself, Then The World (Reach Beyond Your Fingers)”, which was one of the best songs on the album (which funnily enough, is an instrumental). It has the atmosphere, the tension and the weird experimental sound which works well. It’s fantastic… only as an intro, not an outro, as the track does everything an introduction is supposed to and an Outro isn’t. That’s how cluttered and disorganised this album is.
As the song finished, the band come back onto the stage (not that anyone asked) and they then performed some real music, in the form of “Greek Tragedy”, taken from their third studio album, “Glitterbug”, and this got the biggest cheer from the crowd all night (not that it had much competition…), and it was the best sounding song, everyone was jumping and moshing, the crowd were going wild, and even better, the band themselves were coming out of their shell, Matthew Murphy performed this track note-perfect, the band’s chemistry was second to none, it was fantastic. Finally, some good live music. I knew that this would be the final song of the night, and so did the rest of the crowd, which is why everyone demanded one more song, and they did… They performed their incredibly famous 2007 hit “Let’s Dance To Joy Division”, and it felt fantastic, the crowd were on fire, the instrumentation was sensational from the whole band, it was great. Only one problem… Murphy didn’t even attempt to sing the song. He got the crowd to sing EVERY. SINGLE. WORD. Not one word came out of his microphone, which was functioning throughout it. Although I’ve slagged this poor lad off a lot tonight, we just saw that he’s a great vocalist once he can do material he’s comfortable with and he just performed “Greek Tragedy” note-perfect, and so he can do it, and even if he tried to sing and fail, at least he tried. It didn’t feel like he did in that last song at all, which annoyed me a hell of a lot, and made the end of that show the most devastating.
So, there you go, three reviews in one, and now it’s time for my final thoughts: The Wombats are a band that I genuinely enjoy, a band I listen to regularly and a band that’s capable of making great live performances and great music. Today, I’m incredibly sad to report that they haven’t provided us with any of that. From clumsy execution to dreadful vocals from the entire band, especially from lead singer Matthew Murphy, from an album that really isn’t good at all to a man in a Wombat suit running around like a headless chicken on stage, to a show that I said earlier “established why The Wombats don’t do a lot of acoustic shows” being better than the main thing. There really isn’t a lot to like here, and as hard as I try to find a positive in everyone’s work and today’s events, I can’t find anything that doesn’t end up in pure disappointment. The Wombats have disappointed me and didn’t deserve the incredible crowd they had tonight, who carried the whole show from start to finish. It pains me to give these sets the rating they have, but as much as I love this band and respect the people in it, I don’t have much of a choice. I hope they continue to work on themselves as musicians and as a band as well as their live ability because they can do it, and when they can, it’s absolutely magical.
Rough Trade (Acoustic Set):
- Ready For The High
- Method To The Madness
- If You Ever Leave, I’m Coming With You
- Everything I Love Is Going To Die
The Level (Full Show)
- Flip Me Upside Down
- This Car Drives All by Itself
- If You Ever Leave, I’m Coming With You
- Ready For The High
- Method To The Madness
- People Don’t Change People, Time Does
- Everything I Love Is Going To Die
- Work Is Easy, Life Is Hard
- Don’t Poke The Bear
- Fix Yourself, Then the World (Reach Beyond Your Fingers)
- Greek Tragedy
- Let’s Dance To Joy Division