Whatever math goes into putting “X band at Y timeslot” at ACL Fest may need some revision. Playing a bright and sunny 1 p.m. slot typically reserved for newer “discovery” type acts, ACL alums The Wombats drew a (relatively) monster early-afternoon crowd near the Lady Bird Lake entrance Friday. The Liverpool-born new-wave trio played back at ACL 2012. This year they were a Weekend Two-only act, a shame (alongside their early timeslot) considering the enthusiasm and size of crowd they pulled.
The energetic all-ages, hands-up sea of pogo-ers, moshers and crowd surfers devoured the set of summertime anthems about hook-ups, pretty girls, and late nights. The band’s tight-knit, pounding dance rock brings to mind the Two Door Cinema Club and is packed with falsetto hooks and occasionally bordering-on-cringeworthy lyrics (e.g., “Your body is a weapon, love… My body is a temple of doom, doomed not to be by your side”) that they somehow sell as silly fun without missing a beat. It all resulted in an impossible-to-hate, carefree sound perfect for a sweaty afternoon.
“I think we’re going to be carried off stage in urns: three buckets of ash formerly known as The Wombats,” joked drummer Dan Haggis.
The band has one-speed (fast) but it seemed to get fans where they wanted to go. Even slower songs bustled and bounced at a brisk pace, and I’ve not seen so many tracks pull successful attempts at sing and clap-alongs in this timeslot in recent memory.
The Wombats’ penultimate song was a turbo-speed take on infectious hit “Let’s Dance to Joy Division,” a song that (as the title may hint) is either likely to make you facepalm or fist pump. Live, it’s a gleeful bit of pop though, and one with a chorus that rings true on a breezy music festival Friday like today: “Everything is going wrong, but we’re so happy.”
The Texas heat was the source of much of the band’s charming banter. “This song is called ‘The English Summer,’ which has nothing on this [weather]. It’s a really fast song so we’re probably going to get heat stroke, but at least you guys will witness it,” singer Matthew Murphy said. But the joke isn’t far from the truth: The Wombats seem genuinely invested in satisfying their fans, spending time after the set to hand out setlists, guitar picks, and drumsticks to the delight of screaming diehards up front on the rail. They’re doing what they do and doing it right. Now if they can just get a festival timeslot closer to sundown.