People hurriedly scouted the closest parking spaces to the Granada Theater on Friday night so they could encounter as little of the drizzle and cold winds as possible. Making their way past the vintage box office and under the brightly lit marquee, concertgoers crammed into a winding line to pass through the narrow front door and have their tickets confirmed. After a brief stop at the front bar, or a glance at the merch table that not only offered shirts but curiously greeting cards and activity books, they rushed into the open theater to find the optimal spot to stand. They wanted to be as close as possible when the headlining act, The Wombats, took the stage.
The Wombats, a three-piece British rock band formed in Liverpool, is the rock band you probably don’t know about but should. They’re the band that isn’t playing on any radio station your car can tune in but would make your morning commute so much better. Their albums are filled with energetic songs wrapped around hooks that stay in your head for days. Their songs are poppy without sounding like everything else on the top 40 and they’re catchy without overstaying their welcome to annoyance.
Those in packed attendance Friday at the Granada knew all too well what to expect, and it became a one-night fraternity of Wombats faithful who waited patiently while checking their bank accounts to see if they could leave with a shirt.
What the crowd might not have expected was the impressive show put on by opening act Barns Courtney, a natural showman who easily warmed up the already-hot audience. Courtney had been known for his songs “Fire” and “Glitter and Gold,” both pieces of work that carry an influence of blues into their gritty rock arrangements. His performance in front of the Wombats was more smiles than the smoldering presence of his previous music.
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Courtney talked about overcoming hard times and the things he had to do before gaining solid ground in the music industry. He recalled at one point actually auditioning to be in a Wombats music video, getting as far as taking his shirt off for the casting director before his torso didn’t live up to the standards they had in mind. Courtney flipped the switch from disarmingly funny and charming to channeling the rock gods before him, the Mick Jaggers and Jim Morrisons who influenced his white, unbuttoned dress shirt — with a tie never intended to be knotted — draped around his neck like a scarf.
Courtney might not be on your radar now, but change that immediately. His two-track EP released this year, 99, needs to be typed into your Spotify search bar.
When the Wombats came out, the crowd’s anxious energy turned into thankful exuberance, but their screams didn’t speed the pace of the band. Lead vocalist and guitarist Matthew Murphy, bassist Tord Øverland Knudsen and drummer Dan Haggis kept their backs to the audience before moving steadily into position for the next hour-plus set.
As they started their first song, “Cheetah Tongue,” from Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life, the previously still crowd moved in time with each beat, becoming an extension of the music. A slow moment would create a waving sway, while an up-tempo swing would command jumping heads and pumping fists.
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The Wombats played a large portion of Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life, a fact the audience deeply appreciated from their roar of recognition when one of the songs’ first few notes rang out, but the group fully explored their discography. Each of their four albums is packed with a high volume of hits that made them such a success in the U.K., and it was a great chance for fans familiar with only their most recent work to get a different sampling.
Though onstage fans did what appeared to be a manageable job cooling the Wombats, the jackets the crowd wore to once shield the wind and rain outside now proved to be liabilities as the stuffed theater became an oven from all the moving figures.
Whether from the heat or the later hours into a Friday night after a work day, the crowd nearly started to run out of gas. It was at that moment, either by accident or fate, that the Wombats broke out “Moving To New York” from their first album A Guide to Love, Loss & Desperation. From there they didn’t let up on the energy, and any thought about sore feet or uncomfortable temperature was cleared from the shared consciousness of the room. The band bounced back and forth, doing their best from the newest and oldest albums, following “Lethal Combination” with “Let’s Dance to Joy Division,” stopping only for a moment of applause in between.
They left the stage briefly after “Let’s Dance to Joy Division,” with Murphy mentioning sardonically before that it would be their fake last song. That lambasting, while still honoring the most needless of concert traditions, the encore, was the Wombats in a nutshell. It’s a band whose self-awareness frees them to have fun anywhere they are. It’s the attitude of a band whose music puts a smile on your face even on the worst day. It’s the confidence of a band that knows you might not know about them right now, and they might not be on your radio today, but soon, inevitably, they will.