Gig review: Embrace at O2 Academy Leeds

Embrace in concert at O2 Academy Leed. Picture: Anthony Longstaff
Embrace in concert at O2 Academy Leed. Picture: Anthony Longstaff
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If there’s an air of triumph about Embrace as they take to the stage at the O2 Academy Leeds tonight it’s a self-belief born out of long-fought and hard-earned victories rather than any sense of cockiness.

For more than two decades the five-piece from Halifax and Bradford have flown the flag for anthemic alternative rock that’s unafraid to reveal its sensitive side, initially flying in the face of Britpop braggadocio then later against a record industry that often disregarded them despite their obvious passion and the quality of their song writing.

Embrace in concert at O2 Academy Leed. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

Embrace in concert at O2 Academy Leed. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

Performing their debut album The Good Will Out in its entirety to mark its 21st anniversary, they accompany its calling card, All You Good Good People, with cannons of ticker tape and streamers while singer Danny McNamara holds his arms aloft in salute to a sold-out house.

The audience greets it and all the dozen numbers that ensue the same, enthusiastically singing along to his every word.

Come Back To What You Know and One Big Family sound enormous, the former cosily familiar while the latter is given an added sting by the ferocity of guitarist Richard McNamara, bassist Steve Firth and drummer Mike Heaton’s playing.

After Higher Sights, Danny leads the crowd in a rendition of Happy Birthday to his seven-year-old niece, who is sat up on the balcony.

Embrace in concert at O2 Academy Leed. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

Embrace in concert at O2 Academy Leed. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

“This is the first song we wrote when we realised we did not sound like anybody else,” he says by way of introduction to Retread, one of the album’s lesser-known gems.

I Want The World is introduced by Richard, tongue in cheek, as “the first time we realised we sounded a bit like Oasis” but its full-on rockiness sits well alongside You’ve Got To Say Yes.

The down tempo Fireworks provides a change of place before Danny enjoins everyone to sing the “ba ba bas” in the chorus of Last Gas.

Danny asks his parents to take a bow before “our new favourite song off this album”, That’s All Changed Forever, whose first verse is led by Mickey Dale’s delicate piano playing before swelling into another memorable anthem.

Embrace in concert at O2 Academy Leed. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

Embrace in concert at O2 Academy Leed. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

By the album’s title track the celebrations reach their crescendo with another blast of ticker tape and streamers.

Intriguingly they encore with Refugees, whose electronic throb sounds distinctly contemporary, before settling back into the classicism of Follow You Home. Nicole Hope Smith from the band Eevah duets effectively with Danny during Never before the band bid a powerful goodbye with a double salvo of Gravity and Ashes.

“I have to say that being in Embrace is the best f***ing job in the world,” Danny observes, thanking the audience for their support over the last 21 years.

On this kind of form, they could well be around for a good while yet.

Embrace in concert at O2 Academy Leed. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

Embrace in concert at O2 Academy Leed. Picture: Anthony Longstaff