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Gruff Kennedy reviews The Wombats' rowdy return to Bristol

Although frequently derided as an overly commercial group, an image which the Academy, with its attendant phone contract hawkers and a small army of yellow-jacketed security, does little to dispel, the Wombats certainly know how to play an excellent live set. Support was provided by Uxbridge’s BLOXX, who describe themselves as a “DIY praised female fronted, four-piece, alt-rock/indie pop band”, and Liverpool indie outfit The Night Cafe. Though a little samey, the supports were enjoyable, and they certainly accomplished their job of getting the crowd ready for the main attraction.

I saw someone gets knocked to the floor two rows in front of me and perhaps ten or fifteen people pushed past me, distressed, on their way to the balconies.

The crowd, in fact, were a little too enthusiastic, starting some aggressive moshpits, leaning back at the start of songs - crushing people in the back against the barriers - and attempting three walls of death. None of this seemed particularly suited to the Wombats’ cheery indie bops, or to the mainly under-18 crowd.

Bristol. You beauty. ❤ 📸: @philsmithies

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Getting winded near the front and having to grab my friends in a bearhug to stop them getting knocked down hardly enhanced the experience. It was clear that others felt the same level of discomfort. I saw someone gets knocked to the floor two rows in front of me and perhaps ten or fifteen people pushed past me, distressed, on their way to the balconies.

Completely missing maybe the first four songs in the process, I managed to extricate myself from the front, finding a significantly more calm crowd on the second-floor balcony. The fact that most of the lads (you know the type) causing the trouble seemed more interested in showing off than actually enjoying the music was honestly depressing to watch and detracted from what was otherwise a great gig. The juxtaposition with the rows of parents fixedly staring at their phones near the bar resulted in a truly bizarre mood.

The Wombats, however, entirely saved the night. Taking the stage accompanied by a backing screen displaying a cartoon wombat waking up, and immediately launching into energetic new track ‘Cheetah Tongue,’ they played a well-paced and varied set. While tracks from Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life, released in February, predictably dominated the selection, they made sure to include plenty of old favourites as well.

Early standouts included the opening track, ‘1996’, and ‘Kill the Director,’ all accompanied by the screen and an impressive lighting rig. The imagery mainly consisted of kaleidoscopic cartoon marsupials, winding roads, and, in a brief interlude, an elevator display panel.

That panel counted up the numbers while the band started in on an upbeat rendition of elevator Muzak, presented mock-seriously by lead singer Matt Murphy as a “trip to the 13th floor”. This was presented with no context at all, and coupled with further asides, such as a wry joke after the ‘final’ song about “the bit of the set where we pretend to leave but we’re not”, left an impression of a band who didn’t take themselves too seriously and, above all, were just there to have - and provide - a good time. Screaming along to ‘Let’s Dance to Joy Division,’ a song which was the backdrop for so many great house parties in my teens, was a fantastic experience. Even the songs I didn’t know, such as ‘Lemon to a Knife Fight’ or ‘Black Flamingo’, were instantly catchy. The night had its faults, but none of them belonged to the Wombats.

Featured image: Facebook / The Wombats

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