LIVE: Embrace / Tom Speight – O2 Institute, Birmingham, 16/11/2023
25 years ago, Embrace released their debut album, The Good Will Out, which flew to the top of the charts and spawned five Top 40 hits, (three of them denting the Top 10), in the process. Tonight at the Institute, it’s time to celebrate its silver anniversary with the very five men who made the record.
Before the quintet take to the stage though, it’s an opportunity for Tom Speight to deliver a half hour acoustic set to warm up the crowd, and perhaps sell a few of his custom made candles, one of the more inventive merch stand offerings of recent times! He is accompanied by the talented Lydia Clowes who swaps strings for keys during the show and the two put on a well-received and upbeat set.
When the strains of Beck’s ‘Where It’s At’ give way to the cacophonous ‘tuning up’ intro of The Good Will Out, Embrace appear on stage to tumultuous cheers and launch straight into their debut single and the first ‘proper’ song on the album, ‘All You Good Good People’, the song that created a stir for the band when it appeared as a one-off single on Fierce Panda, a label who had a knack of spotting emerging bands (they somehow managed to release early records by Coldplay, Keane, and Placebo too!) It’s such an epic, anthemic song, it’s like starting a show with an encore and singer Danny McNamara has his arms aloft as if he’s scored the winning goal in the F.A. Cup final before the intro has even finished.
The fact that it’s the ‘classic lineup’ of the band certainly adds to the sense of occasion, with Danny’s younger brother Richard McNamara looking equally ebullient on guitar and backing (and occasionally, lead) vocals. Danny announces early on that they intend to play the album in order, and those three Top 10 hits arrive in quick succession, the Institute choir in full effect on those big choruses of ‘My Weakness Is None Of Your Business’ and ‘Come Back To What You Know’. The only slight deviation from the original presentation of the album is to begin ‘One Big Family’ with its ‘Perfecto Mix’ intro, before it morphs into the regular version of the song – and a mighty rendition it is too.
The love for Embrace is clear to see; when Danny asks if anyone bought the album when it came out, the answer is pretty unanimous, and the demographic of the large part of the crowd would suggest that a lot (including this writer!) were at the original The Good Will Out tour in Autumn 1998. A 50th and 75th anniversary tour are promised by Danny to follow up this one…tickets presumably on sale next Friday at 10am…!
Such are the number of well-known songs on The Good Will Out, it always sounded like a ‘greatest hits’ record, but tonight songs like the reflective ‘Higher Sights’ and ‘Retread ‘ show that there was light and shade on the album amongst the more anthemic big hits. For whatever reason, over the years, the band often opted against playing ‘The Last Gas’, a song from their first chart-troubling release, the Fireworks E.P. – so for those who have been longing to see it performed again, here it is in full effect. It had them compared to Oasis at the time, but then the same fate seemed to befall every band who appeared with guitars during that period. That comparison feels pretty silly now.
‘Fireworks’ itself is delivered magnificently, to a hushed, apppreciative audience and the albums title track, so often the band’s choice of final encore, rounds off the performance of the album with a hearty chorus of “la la las” to accompany it. In that true late ’90s way, the album is an hour long, so with Danny’s between song chats, means that an hour and a quarter has gone by in a flash.
The band come back for a clutch of songs from other periods of their career – it was never going to be easy to cover a quarter of a century in a five song encore, but a spirited ‘We Are It’ represents the most recent Embrace record (from last year), then there is the excellent ‘Refugees’ (sung by Richard), and a fan-voted B-side ‘Dry Kids’ before the evening is concluded with two songs from their big mid-noughties ‘comeback’ period in ‘Gravity’ and a triumphant, thumping ‘Ashes’.
There’s not even a hint of ‘going through the motions’, more the heartwarming site of five old friends doing what they love and being delighted to still be doing it. At this rate, that promised 2073 The Good Will Out tour is going to be well worth the wait!
God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.
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