The cavernous Brixton Academy is full to the brim with expectant twenty and thirtysomethings – many of them couples – when the lights go down and the strains of What A Wonderful World and then, rather strangely, Down To The River To Pray (from O Brother Where Art Thou?) come over the sound system. Embrace troop on stage to healthy applause, which quickly intensifies when the first bars of recent single Ashes are unleashed.
Anthemic, with an uplifting chorus to sing along to (“Watch me rise up and leave / All the ashes you made out of me”), this had live crowd-pleaser written all over it on the album, and does not disappoint in the flesh. The only surprise is that they didn’t save it for the encore.
As if to gently remind the crowd that they were in the music game for quite a while before Coldplay‘s Chris Martin lent them a friendly hand to make them the comeback kings of 2004, Embrace swiftly move into All You Good Good People from their 1997 album, The Good Will Out. The crowd roar appreciatively.
It’s then into slower, ballad territory with latest single Looking As You Are. Among sections of the crowd, hands start wafting above heads in time to the music, although fortunately lighters remain firmly in pockets – we’re not at a Cliff Richard concert guys! Danny McNamara manages better than expected on the high notes, since even on the album there appeared to be a few wobbly moments. In fact, the only dodgy notes appeared on the faster numbers when he was obviously taking less care to get it right.
Gravity, the Martin-penned hit, made an early appearance in the set when again it might have been expected to be an encore. Although I had found the single rather clunky, obvious, and irritating, played live it was significantly more appealing.
The pace was then stepped up with Spell It Out, a rockier number with Richard McNamara able to show he knows his guitar. Some of the excitable members of the audience managed to unglue their feet from the even-stickier-than-normal floor to have a bit of a boogie.
Live, Embrace are very much a “front man and the rest” kind of band, although Danny does introduce the other band members in one of the instrumental sections, and draws attention when his brother Richard does some particularly good backing vocals or guitar-playing. As the gig progresses Danny also starts chatting with the crowd more, telling of passing the 500,000 sales mark in the UK with Out Of Nothing; talking about their upcoming debut US tour; and their recent songwriting. He also comments on the beaming faces in the front section of the crowd.
The remainder of the set and the rather excessive four song encore is a mix of mainly old (including My Weakness Is None Of Your Business, Save Me, Wonder, and a singalong version of Come Back To What You Know), with some new (Out Of Nothing, A Glorious Day) and some even newer (the not yet finished, provisionally titled, New Song Number 1, and “this one is slow, and sad” Opposites).
Whilst to many, Embrace’s music is on the verge of dull and Danny’s vocals are not quite all they could be, tonight they have triumphed in the eyes of the Brixton Academy crowd, with plenty for old fans and recent converts alike.