Embrace + Eevah @ o2 Institute 5 April, 2018

Having reviewed the latest album by Embrace at the start of March, it was with great anticipation that I went to see them in the beautiful former Congregational church in Digbeth. Readers of that review will have understood the inkling that I liked the seventh studio album by Yorkshire band Embrace and tonight I was ready to be entertained.

First up was Eevah. Singer Nicole Hope Smith had sung with the main act tonight on previous tours but the newly formed duo with Richard Mcnamara of Embrace, provided a fine support act. Contrasting with the guitar led music of the main act, they presented a more pop influenced set. Someone earlier in the week, on one of the band’s social media fan pages, suggested that Nicole was like a Maria Mckee or a Sarah Mclachlan. She certainly has the tone and range of Mckee but the upbeat radio friendly melodies made me think of them more like Cocteau Twins with a bit of Cindi Lauper referenced in the music. Their first song was a cover of ‘Song to The Siren’ co-written by Tim Buckley and if like me, you’re more familiar with This Mortal Coil’s version, you’ll hear the comparison with Cocteau Twins’ Liz Fraser. Driven by an electronic rhythm section and layered guitars with the delayed ‘Edge-like’ sound of Richard Mcnamara’s live guitar, the audience were very well entertained by the six song set. The new single ‘Can’t Breathe’ is surely deserving of some mainstream radio play, and if the rest of the set is representative of their sound, it won’t be their last song worthy of such exposure.

After a short turnaround the familiar strains of regular intro music ‘Down to the River to Pray’ was followed by ‘What a Wonderful World’ and on they stride, Danny Mcnamara’s arms already aloft in triumph. Opening with ‘Wake up Call’ from the new album they were instantly comfortable with the audience who all proceed to sing the roof off. Old favourite ‘All You Good Good People’, relegated to second place, which is saying something, had everyone in the place in fine voice. Mickey Dale’s piano riffs at the start of ‘Nature’s Law’ provided a gentle lull to the singing but the hum of excitement soon gave way to the singalong. The band were tight tonight and clearly in good humour. ‘Follow you Home’ from the last album had the audience singing the chorus even before the band started, familiar as the fans are with their back catalogue.

Then we all played a game of name that tune as Richard teased us with the first note of ‘Come Back to What You Know’ and Danny did a quick count of hands of those in the know….’Hands up if you don’t like putting yours hands up’ Danny was in fine comedy form. The venue really helped tonight, it was intimate enough to make you feel closer to the band and grand enough to carry the euphoria.

Continuing his banter with the crowd, Danny then quizzed us to see if we had bought the new album and then jokingly tutted at the half of the audience who hadn’t (yet) ‘I blame Spotify’ he chuckled and went on to have a rant about the newly stock exchange floated company. ‘Anyway….tonight’s gig is sponsored by Spotify’ and then threw a Brucie pose..followed by a ba-dum tshh comedy crash of drums.

Following this up was Rabbit Hole, a highlight for me with the wonderful simmering strings at the start. For me this song demonstrated the quality of the new material and also the quality of the band. There was a point when everything came perfectly together as the vocals of Danny, Richard and Mickey reached the peak of the song as Mickey’s magnificent one man orchestra floated gloriously underneath, buoyed by the tight and pounding rhythm section. I’ve never heard them sound better than in that song, such is quality of each individual part and if I’m being honest I’ve never heard Danny sing as well in a long time. How on earth Mike Heaton maintains that quality of drumming for so long is testament to his ability and Steve Firth ably demonstrates my long held belief that bass players are actually the coolest in any band. Such is the overall quality of the band on this song that it  brings the loudest applause so far.

Danny leaves the stage with his customary packet of ‘tangfastic’ sweets thrown on by a fan, leaving Richard in charge of lead singing duties. He starts the riff of ‘Where you Sleeping’ to applause and cheers. A very emotional song, sung with great gravitas, which ends with a massive round of applause, after which he tells us in his dry laconic manner…’it’s really hard to play that’ earning himself another round of applause in the process. Continuing lead singing duties Richard starts ‘Refugees’ another favourite from the last album and it seems momentarily that we are watching a very accomplished four piece you would pay good money to see. Then Danny walks back onto the stage for the ending and lifts the atmosphere to the top of this fine hall.

This is when having a cracking back catalogue pays off because just as people are gathering themselves, we are treated to ‘Someday’ and ‘One Big Family’ and as I glance across at my ‘punk’ hardened older brother, catch him nodding along. The dirty wah-wah riffs from the guitar in One Big Family and the thumping rhythm section showing the heavier side of Embrace.

‘Love is a Basic need’ the title track from the new album, heralds the last run of songs at the end of the main set and we are reminded of our age as Danny jokingly suggests we might need our reading glasses to sing along, since the words are printed on the front of the bass drum as Mike obligingly thumps it. Then came the part of every Embrace set I dislike. ‘Save Me’. However, in the name of objectivity I resist the urge to visit the conveniences and instead listen to it……………….Ok Ok…I get it now! A magnificent jump along song that gets almost everyone in the audience a good six inches off the floor in the chorus, though Danny jokes that a few years back with better knees, we’d be nearer a foot off the floor! ‘Gravity’ follows and unlike usual renditions this seems a heavier version and all the better for it! There are clearly a lot of fans in tonight for whom this era of song started their love affair with the band…and that’s ok! It’s like the strata of a geographic sample, showing the different layers and make-up of the fan base, diverse in part and united in the love of one band for the most. ‘Ashes’ completes the main set and as the entire audience jump into the air, arms aloft and singing. I glance across and see one of the ‘long standing’ fans, who I won’t name here, stood rooted to the spot head turned up in admiration and amidst the chaos all around him he smiles, clearly too emotional to do anything else.

We don’t have to wait long for the band to come back on for their encore and after bringing their stage sound man on so that we can all sing happy birthday to him, they start the first of the three song encore with ‘All That Remains.’ This was the hardest song to read when I reviewed the album and Danny tells us that this is probably his favourite every Embrace song. As in ‘Rabbit Hole’ it’s a very intense and emotional vocal performance, particularly during the second verse when he seems overcome with emotion and it really does show the new material to be head and shoulders above most of what they’ve done before. Danny sings, tugging at his shirt ‘are you ready? are you ready?….when all is lost and broken I’ll still give you all that remains’

‘Never’ sees them joined by Nicole from Eevah who quite rightly gets an appreciative round of applause as she joins in the duet with Danny on the verse. Before they end with ‘The Good Will Out’, the last song on the first album, it seems like a good point to tell us of their not-yet-set-in-stone plans to tour next year for the 21st anniversary of the first album. As I write there are many ‘comeback tours’ from bands who shared the ‘stage’ with Embrace on many occasions, perhaps they see Embrace and what they have achieved (not that Embrace really went away) and want to have a taste of success again. But what Embrace are doing differently is writing material that is in my opinion, better than most of their back catalogue. Yes there are obvious songs that people will suggest could never be bettered, but the new material shows them to be a band prepared to progress not reminisce. 

As the last bars of ‘The Good Will Out’ ring out, the love the fans have for this band is obvious as it shines from every corner of this former church. What has also been apparent tonight is that that love is reciprocated in the acknowledgement that fans have grown up with the band and gone on their journey with them, maybe not every step of the way, after all, sometimes we’ve been too busy with both feet off the floor, arms aloft…..

Embrace Set list 
Wake up call
All you good good people 
Natures law
Follow you home 
Come back to what you know
Rabbit hole
Where you sleeping
One Big Family 
Love is a Basic Need
Save Me 
All that remains 
The Good Will Out
Eevah Set List 
Song to the siren 
Say What You Want
Can’t Breathe 
Kill You Again 


Review and Photographs: Phillip Veitch

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