Olympia, LIverpool, 15/12/2016
published: 8 /
Richard Lewis watches resurgent quintet Embrace turn in an impressive career-spanning hits set at the beautiful Liverpool Olympia
"What a lovely venue,"’ Embrace lead singer Danny McNamara marvels, gazing up at the proscenium arch and chandeliers of the magnificent Liverpool Olympia. "Apparently, they used to keep elephants in a downstairs room. This used to be a circus," keys player Mickey Dale adds. While the above seems improbable, the palatial venue was indeed a circus a century ago. Talking of more recent history, in 1997 the present group were one of the most hyped new bands in the country via a string of sterling EPs and 45s. While Embrace’s 1998 debut LP ‘The Good Will Out’ delivered the goods, the Brothers McNamara & Co have had a stuttering career since, ebbing, disappearing, reappearing to huge success all over again then crumbling. Making a second successful comeback in 2014 after a six year layoff with their eponymously-titled sixth LP, their resilience stands as evidence of their enduring appeal. While many of their late 1990s contemporaries have either split up or fallen by the wayside, Embrace have the same line-up and a renewed sense of purpose.
While their career on record by the group’s own admission has been uneven, their skill as a live act has never been in doubt. Proof of their confidence is immediately made plain playing one of their best-known songs, anthemic debut single ‘All You Good, Good People’ first, kicking off a hits set which is thrown down with the easy assurance of a card shark possessing a winning hand.
Plundering their back catalogue, while their earlier material provides a Proustian rush back to an era when the ‘NME’ was still sold in newsagents and ‘Never Mind the Buzzcocks’ was somehow considered passable entertainment, cuts from the band’s most recent LP are impressive set additions. The bass-led thrum of ‘In the End’, ‘Refugees’ glassy surfaces and the riffmungus ‘Follow You Home’ displays the disc’s successful New Order/Depeche Mode plaiting of programming and synth loops.
An underrated frontman constantly reacting to the audience, Danny and younger brother guitarist Richard have a nice line in self-deprecating patter. "Have you been here every night?" the singer enquires of a fan in the front row, clearly impressed. "Sometimes even I think twice," he laughs. The story of a punter who won a radio competition to meet the band backstage who said "I own both of your LPs, 'The Good Will Out' and 'Greatest Hits’" meanwhile is recalled with dry irony by Richard.
An audience chorusing take on rumbustious live favourite ‘One Big Family’ showcases its reliability as a rabble rouser, a sentiment echoed with the woozily shuffling indie rock of ‘Save Me’, while a romp through their finest single ‘Ashes’ provides the evening’s pinnacle. Elsewhere the outfit’s famed ability to create bottom lip-trembling ballads viz: ‘Fireworks’ and ‘Come Back to What You Know’ remains intact.
Whatever obstructions that caused the quintet to disappear for eight years have clearly been surmounted as Danny states the band’s next album is ready for release in 2017 with solid taster track ‘Love is a Basic Need’ a recent live stalwart. Flagging up the twentieth anniversary of ‘The Good Will Out’ set to be celebrated the following year meanwhile showcases the group’s firm desire not to vanish into thin air again anytime soon.
"We’ll be back soon Liverpool. This isn’t over yet," Danny pronounces grinning as the lights go up following an elongated closing run through ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’-evoking epic weepie ‘The Good Will Out’. On this form no-one could doubt him and as the crowd stream out the strong feeling that Embrace may have just tapped into a new seam is palpable.
Photographs by Darren Aston