Whoa, the Wombats got really popular. Too popular to be at the Annex, where they played to a 3/4 filled room back in August. I’d venture to say the crowd was mostly Brits, mostly drunk out of their St. Patrick’s Day minds, and mostly knew all the words to every song. It’s pretty easy to do so with the shout-along choruses of UK hits like "Kill the Director," "Let’s Dance to Joy Division" and "Lost in the Post."
Ducking out of the Mercury Lounge for a "smoke break" after El Guincho’s set, I scrambled over to the Annex to find it packed to the gills, to the point where you literally had to fight your way through the crowd. Fun show, especially with this ready-for-it audience, but I think maybe the songs are wearing on me after hearing most of them for the last two years. It was so hot in there I couldn’t take it anymore and left after six songs, heading back to Mercury for Cut Copy, and the only way people would let me past them was to shout "I need to get past to leave the club!"
The Wombats seemed to be everywhere at SXSW, playing to similarly psyched audiences and word on the street is they just signed to Roadrunner, who will hopefully be putting out their official debut on these shores as soon as possible. There’s no doubt in my mind these guys could fill Bowery next time… or maybe somewhere bigger.
For a band with a single called "Moving to New York," The Wombats sure took their sweet time getting here, skipping Manhattan in favor of multiple L.A. shows when they were here for SXSW in March. Maybe they were too nervous. In any event, it probably worked in their favor, as buzz for the Liverpool trio has built steadily since the release of their first single, "Lost in the Post," last summer, resulting in them being the first unsigned band to sell out their hometown’s Carling Academy.
The Annex is about one-fifth the capacity of the Academy, but it was choc’ full of people when I arrived just before 10PM. And I do think it was worth the wait — what a bunch of charming, funny, unassuming guys who I wouldn’t exactly call tight, but they could really play and knew what they were doing. And you could tell that they were super-psyched to finally — finally! — be playing NYC.
Singer Matthew Murphy — looking like a cross between Robert Smith, Larry Fine and Sideshow Bob — came on-stage carrying a plush toy wombat (purchased at FAO Schwartz earlier in the day), setting it on his guitar amp as all three Wombats huddled around a microphone for the barbershop title track from their Japan-only Girls, Boys and Marsupials, before launching into their first song, a new one I didn’t know. We heard a few new ones which will be included on their "official" debut album. (…Marsupials, which made my Best of 2006 list, was a quickie to satiate the Japanese market.)
Their energetic, 40-minute-or-so set was no-muss-no-fuss, hitting all the singles and best album tracks. Murphy has very expressive eyes, even when somewhat obscured by his mop of curly hair, and is a real Chatty Cathy, as is drummer Dan Haggis (unfortunate if it’s his real name) the band’s comedian. While I think Murphy’s lyrics try too hard sometimes to be clever — the phrase "Rom-com" should never feature in a chorus, even one as ridiculously catchy as "Kill the Director" — he is a skilled tunesmith, with even the most throwaway songs being catchy as hell.
Speaking of such, the band’s next single is called "Let’s Dance to Joy Division." I don’t mind that the phrase is in the chorus, but they really should’ve given it another title. It’s a horrible title for a single, smacks of novelty. (Maybe I’m sensitive as I saw Ian Curtis biopic Control [review coming shortly] the night before.) I was turned off the first time I heard it on BBC 1, but it was stuck in my head immediately. And subsequent listens kept it there. When they played it at the Annex, I had come around to it fully. It’s a great single and is likely to be huge for them. The highlight of the show, though, as you might expect, was "Moving to New York." As it should be. Still…