Live: The Wombats – First Direct Arena, Leeds

It’s 2019 – 12 years since the release of The Wombats’ debut record A Guide To Love Loss and Desperation and what a rollercoaster of a career it has been so far for the Liverpool indie-rockers. Saturday night saw the band headline their first arena show in Leeds, marking a huge step for the band, signalling a return to form for the three-piece that has been long overdue.

I read a recent review from The Guardian about The Wombats that was largely uncomplimentary in tone and in places, just rude. 2018 was, contrary to their review, a year of re-establishment for the band with the release of Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life, catapulting the band into the mainstream. A string of festival headline shows and performances helped Matt Murphy and co redefine their audience and become an ultimate “dark fruit” band with crowds likened to The Courteeners and The Sherlocks. This new found fan base has allowed their careers to thrive and grow to places they may not have thought possible towards the end of the last decade.

Opening for them was Blaenavon, one of the most exciting bands from the South of England right now. With a full-length release behind them, the Hampshire band played a set that signalled the completion of this stage of their career. With a new record on the cards for 2019, it felt like a final outing for some of their That’s Your Lot tracks, and the packed arena crowd sang along like they were the headline act in places. Blaenavon manage to be both unassuming but explosive and I’d previously only seen them on the small stage and was wholly sceptical about how their sound would translate to the big stage. It was beautiful though, a well-balanced main support set that has set up their 2019 to be a real breakthrough for them.

Opening with one of 2018’s stand out hits, The Wombats came out in style to Cheetah Tongue, the track that really sky-rocketed their careers again last year. The set didn’t fall flat for some time with classic Moving to New York bringing the party, and one of the set highlights Black Flamingo, immediately proving just how current The Wombats still are.

With stunning visuals throughout, the band had a 1975 feel about them during the show. The main difference being the three-piece were grounded and seemed genuinely honoured to be playing such a stage. 1996 and Emoticons reminded the newer (and to some extent the old timers) fans, how good their middle two albums actually were but it was the “citrus trilogy” that really brought home the quality and highlighted how diverse The Wombats are within the indie genre.

Lemon to a Knife Fight, I Don’t Know Why I Like You but I Do and Pink Lemonade provided a wonderful 12 minutes of music that showed off Matt’s voice impeccably, and lent themselves well to the trio’s musical capabilities. It’s hard for me to view The Wombats as a “cool” indie band in 2019 considering how Kill The Director and Let’s Dance to Joy Division were the soundtrack to my 11 year old life but this night proved to me that this band are only starting out on what could be one hell of a career.

Lethal Combination provided a beautiful moment and whilst the end of the main set ended with a huge cheese fest of five furry wombats taking to the stage, the encore brought the bands class out in style. Turn, the standout track on their 2018 record, would have been the perfect end to the show, but Greek Tragedy closed out the evening with a mass singalong and left the crowd happy and wanting more.

The Wombats are a band that will never be taken too seriously by music critics but I don’t think that’s the reason they exist. They’re the band that remind us all, no matter what age, how to have fun. I enjoyed every minute of the show and whilst admittedly not the biggest fan of the band, have seen them grown in the last 18 months and they deserved every second of their career affirming set on the First Direct Arena stage.

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