London Highbury Upstairs At The Garage

Our rating:

A band or ordinary blokes playing extraordinary songs...

He’s singing it like he’s always sung it: acoustic guitar in hand, head slightly bowed at the might of his own creation. He’s done that thing where he quells the crowd with a hand raised to his lips and a little, “Shhh!”, and now he begins, the baying crowd quiet, the gravitas on tap.

He’s doing ‘Retread’, and this is what he sings. Beautiful. Slightly quivering. “[I]My brother is a retard[/I]…”

Poor Richard McNamara. What he’s done is just spoil the intro to one of Embrace’s finest moments with a slightly premature and extraneous guitar flourish. And now this is his comeuppance. Witty put down by English music’s most notoriously unwitty man. His brother. Not nice, certainly. But a surprise, for Embrace, nonetheless.

For what we are watching here is the sight of something being steadily talked back to the safety of charm and majesty when it looked to be teetering on the precipice of bombast. Embrace: the very finest songs, but delivered on an album meticulously overproduced to quell their original fervour. The very finest songs, left almost unlistenable to some by virtue of their singer’s vast and unwise gob in interviews. Still, the very finest songs, but left looking rather daft coming from a band issued, army-like with the haircuts and makeover of the sleek and successful. That’s Embrace. Fly like a ballerina. Land like a council house.

But here they, well, they come back to what they know. Yes, they arrive like a shower of berks, Danny with his hand aloft in the peace sign, desperate by his incitement of the crowd to prove that he is not just an ordinary man, and that this band are not just ordinary blokes who play extraordinary songs, but stars. And so maybe that illuminated ‘EMBRACE’ backdrop that appears during ‘One Big Family’, accompanied by a swathe of bubbling electronics and the powerful whiff of cheese is ridiculous in the extreme. What matters, though, is that while this is all surface, underneath there’s all feeling.

There are football chants occurring, that end with the word “EMBRACE!” bellowed by thousands of crying Glaswegians on each other’s shoulders, and Danny is there to respond. “You can understand why we start our tours up here, can’t you?” he asks. Danny has brought them to this state, and he holds them in thrall as the mood drops from exultation to devotion and contemplation. ‘My Weakness Is None Of Your Business’. ‘Free Ride’. ‘That’s All Changed Forever’… What occurs is that though Embrace are tempted by the trappings of Noel and the demands of rock, their quiet dignity will always win out.

There’s another telling moment. Richard has the opportunity to redeem himself for his earlier disgrace, by singing his song ‘The Way I Do’ for the first time, so Danny leaves the stage to let him get on with it. The chants of his name subside and Richard conducts his Lennon-esque ballad with quiet poise, quiet charm.

Then Danny comes back, and he says nothing. What he does is much more revealing, much more touching, really much more truly Embrace. He discreetly claps, he nods, and he touches his brother on the shoulder and whispers something.

Something like, “Glad you did it,” maybe. “Glad in spite of everything, you came through all right.”