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Is This a Real-Life Meme?

Written by on March 4, 2022

The Wombats @ The Wiltern [2/25/2022]

Photos by Maija Fiedelholtz

It’s twelve minutes until showtime. My back is against the short railing on the far side of the Wiltern floor. Several clusters of single men scurry to the floor and into their seats. One hand in the pocket of their two-size-too-small pants, beer in the other. Jeans: cuffed. Quirky baseball cap: secured. Apparently, Fridays are for the boys.

A closer scan of the crowd and I notice a few couples. Awwww. I scan again. There are more than just a few. Blech. It seems like everyone and their mother is on a date. Hinge? Bumble? First date? Third date? Who knows. I’m waiting for the show to start. Are these people here to see the Wombats?

The first time I heard the Wombats and the first time I ever heard of the Wombats was on Tiktok. I have no shame. Oliver Nelson’s cover of their 2015 song “Greek Tragedy” went viral as a Tiktok sound. Most people probably don’t know the song by name, but if you heard it, you’d be like, “Ohhhhhh yeah, that song.” It’s one of those. We’ve all heard of certain artists going viral because of the Tiktok platform, like Blu Detiger or Oliver Tree. But the Wombats, an indie rock band which started in Liverpool in the early 2000s, have been around for a while.

The Wombats released their debut album in 2007; they are currently touring their sixth album Fix Yourself, Not the World.  This show is the last of their US leg. While the band’s frontman, Matthew Murphy would probably detest this suggestion, it is hard not to consider how the band’s Tiktok fame may have contributed to the band’s longevity and ability to tour another album. I was hoping I would be pleasantly surprised by their performance. Maybe I’d happen upon a new indie-song gem to add to the masses of my liked songs on Spotify.

“Here’s the thing we started out friends/ It was cool but it was all pretend”

Opening the show is Spilltab, a French-Korean, fresh from college bedroom-pop act also known as Claire Chicha. You might know Spilltab from her song with Gus Dapperton, “Velcro.” She shares with the audience that she worked on tour for him once she graduated college. It’s been two years since then. Friday night, she is the opening act at the Wiltern. She has an indifferent attitude in the best way possible: she’s wearing a purple, red, and orange paisley patterned pajama set. She’s talking to us like we’re her friends. We might as well be at a college party. She plays a cover of “Since You’ve Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson and even plays Usher’s “Yeah!” on the Ukulele. Her musicality is just like her persona: quirky, cool, and relaxed.

After Spilltab threw a peace sign and strolled off the stage nonchalantly there was a long intermission. I am back at the college party. A staff member asks me what I’m drinking. She clicks her acrylic nails on her iPad. I look at my feet. Doc Martens. I scan the crowd again. Everyone is wearing them. Then, I see the most devoted fans I’ve seen the entire night in matching Wombat onesies. I ask them if I can take a picture of them. Click.

Wombats fans in Wombats attire

I look up at the stage. Oh, there’s a guy on stage with a guitar. Oh, this must be the Wombats. And, guess what, they’re dressed exactly like their wannabe indie boy audience! Tight pants, tight shirt, pseudo-alternative style. The drummer is mounted on a structure which looks like a giant rubix-cube.

They start their set with their 2010 song “Flip Me Upside Down.” The last line of the verse: “I’m all dressed up and getting no replies but you walk in the room, my tongue gets tied.” The bassist whispers “tongue tied” into the mic repeatedly before the chorus hits. Kinda fun, but nothing special. It is no Grouplove, that’s for sure. Next, an oldie. It’s their song “Moving to New York” from their debut album.  The lady behind me is gesticulating as she dances. She wishes it was 2007 again. She is literally a meme.

We’re almost halfway through their set. Matthew Murphy introduces a song by making a joke about how great the reviews were for it. Murphy says something along the lines of “Mahatma Gandhi thought it was all the rage.” He is trying really hard to be sarcastic. Oh boy. A person in a wombat costume comes on stage walking another person like a dog in a wombat costume who is crawling on the floor, and no, these are not the women I met earlier! The aesthetic of this scene is Super Mario Bros meets Kanye West’s Graduation album cover.

I’m relieved when a song comes on and the crowd starts clapping their hands. Good, they like this one. I can stop cringing. People start standing up in the mezzanine. People are holding onto their dates.

Then, Murphy says to us “let’s pretend we’re in Studio 54 and we’re all out of our minds….” By the nature of his comment it seems both like he’s been playing for an audience for a couple decades and like he is accustomed to playing for a crowd that is not super enthusiastic. Maybe he feels awkward about letting us in on this so he says “but actually tonight is a Friday night in Los Angeles.” (note: Angeles said like An-gel-eeeez with a Liverpool accent). He seems to be picking up on the energy of the crowd. I’ll give it to him, he’s spot on. If my friends and I were here, or if I brought a Dating App boy here, we’d be moshing, but we’d be moshing ironically because we’d only know every two-or-three songs.

“This is Not Bridget Jones, This is Not A Fucking Rom-Com”

A couple more songs worth of awkward dancing and finally, the song everyone’s been waiting for, the one we all know the lyrics from: “Greek Tragedy.”

By the end of the song, the Wombats are tired and they are ready to go home to their wives. “We’re going to pretend the next song is the last song even though we know that it’s not.” The crowd chants “one more song” with too much enthusiasm. I can’t help but wonder if the people around me are also being ironic.

The Wombats come back on stage for one more song from their new album. But it seems like these millennial marsupials have had enough. They end with the song everyone hoped they might play, one I have never heard before: “Turn.” This is the indie-pop song I’ve been waiting to like on Spotify all night. Phew. Maybe I should have brought my friends, or a date!

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