By John Curley
“Singles remind me of kisses / Albums remind me of plans.”
It was lyrics like that above, from Squeeze’s “If I Didn’t Love You,” that made the band so beloved by fans during their heyday and had the band’s creative duo, Chris Difford (lyrics) and Glenn Tilbrook (music), being looked at by many as the Lennon-McCartney of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The band packed albums such as “Argybargy,” “East Side Story,” and “Sweets From A Stranger” with hook-laden hits that made Squeeze stars on both sides of the Atlantic. In America, heavy rotation play during the early days of MTV of Squeeze videos for “Tempted” and “Black Coffee In Bed” raised the band’s profile here considerably. The band has split and reunited over the years with shifting membership and Difford and Tilbrook being the consistent members. This year, Squeeze released their fifteenth studio album (the fourteenth of original material) titled “The Knowledge.” They are currently touring America in support of the album, and the tour brought them to New York City’s beautiful Beacon Theatre on Sunday, November 19th.
Given Squeeze’s propensity for thought-provoking lyrics, it’s not surprising that they chose John Wesley Harding to open their shows on this American tour. Harding, whose real name is Wesley Stace, writes terrific, often quite humorous, lyrics. And his between-song comments were often laugh-out-loud funny. His 40-minute set, during which he accompanied himself on acoustic guitar and harmonica, was really enjoyable, and he received a nice hand from the crowd.
Following an interval of about 20 minutes, Squeeze took the stage. In addition to Difford and Tilbrook on guitar and vocals, the current lineup is comprised of drummer Simon Hanson, Stephen Large on keyboards, bassist Yolanda Charles, and Steve Smith on percussion. The band’s arrival onstage was greeted with a big cheer from the raucous, sold-out crowd.
Like many veteran bands, Squeeze has to walk a tightrope between promoting their new material while keeping the audience happy by playing familiar hits. They managed to do that quite well at the Beacon Theatre show by going back-and-forth between new and old material for the majority of the set while saving some of the older, better-known songs for the end of the main set and the encore. Seven songs from “The Knowledge” were performed at the concert. A video screen behind the band showed videos and images that played in time with each song.
Squeeze opened with the new song “Please Be Upstanding.” Tilbrook gave a great vocal performance on the song, and it was a terrific band effort. It is clear that there are no passengers in this band. From the first notes of the next song, the classic “Pulling Mussels (From The Shell),” the crowd was on their feet and singing along at the top of their voices. It was wonderful to witness, and the band seemed very pleased with the enthusiasm of the audience. And the show went on like this, with the crowd seated and listening intently but supportively to the new material while erupting when the classic Squeeze hits were performed.
The bouncy new song “Patchouli” was up next, and it featured some nice work by Large on keyboards. The poppy “Hourglass” then followed, with the audience quite pleased with the fast chorus that was sung by the entire band. The slower new song “Final Score” contained stellar guitar work by Tilbrook. The song is about sexual abuse of young soccer players by their coach, and mirrors stories of such abuse that have been in the news over the past year in the band’s native UK.
The new tune “Rough Ride” featured a great guitar break from Tilbrook and alternated between a prerecorded operatic female voice and Tilbrook’s live vocal. The audience was up on their feet and singing along again for the performance of “Annie Get Your Gun.” It was another terrific group effort. The new song “Innocence In Paradise” provided a really great vocal from Difford and Tilbrook and contained some great bass playing by new recruit Charles.
Tilbrook switched from guitar to ukulele for the jaunty “Cradle To The Grave.” It serves as the theme song to the British sitcom “Cradle To Grave.” The performance of “Nirvana” was highlighted by some nice playing by Large at the start of the song. Difford then took lead vocal duties for his signature song “Cool For Cats” that also featured a killer guitar break by Tilbrook. Difford seemed quite pleased with the raucous reaction from the crowd to the song, with most of the audience on their feet and singing along loudly. The crowd upped the ante for the next song, “Another Nail In My Heart,” which was one of the highlights of the show, with seemingly everyone in the theater singing along with every word. And from the smiles that the members of the band had on their faces, it seemed that they really enjoyed playing it.
Following the new songs “Departure Lounge” and “Albatross,” Squeeze performed a fantastic extended and reworked version of “Take Me I’m Yours” that had Large’s keyboard playing a loop while Large was on accordion, Hanson was playing a snare drum, and Smith was using a two-sided drum. It got a huge reaction from the crowd. They followed that with a terrific take on “Tempted” that featured a soulful vocal from Tilbrook. The bass-heavy “Wicked And Cruel” was up next. It got a good reaction from the audience.
From this point on, the show contained one Squeeze classic after another. A reworked, slower “Goodbye Girl” had Hanson on cowbell for the first half of the song and received quite a reaction from the crowd. The truly great power-pop classic “Up The Junction” followed. It was fantastic, highlighted by Tilbrook’s vocal of Difford’s storytelling lyrics. It received a massive reaction cheer from the audience. Difford and Tilbrook teamed up on the lead vocal for a killer version of “If I Didn’t Love You.” And their vocals were backed by the crowd, so loud and powerful that they almost overwhelmed the sound coming from the band. The main set came to a conclusion with a tight take on “Slap And Tickle.” It was a showcase for the entire band, so its set-closing position was apt indeed. The band then took their bows and left the stage to a massive roar from the fist-pumping crowd.
After a brief break, the band returned for the encore. A tight, bouncy “Is That Love” that was highlighted by Tilbrook’s fantastic vocal was up first. It received a huge hand from the audience. The show came to a close with a very extended version of “Black Coffee In Bed” that included introductions of the band members and a spotlight moment for each of them. As the band took their final bows, Hanson brought a video camera to the front of the stage and aimed it at the audience so that the roaring crowd could see themselves on the video screen behind the band. It had been a fun and memorable one hour and 40-minute show.
Squeeze’s US tour resumes on Tuesday, November 21st at Boston’s Wilbur Theatre. It concludes on Sunday, December 3rd at the College Street Music Hall in New Haven, CT. Full tour dates can be found at http://www.squeezeofficial.com/shows/.
The setlist was as follows:
Please Be Upstanding
Pulling Mussels (From The Shell)
Annie Get Your Gun
Innocence In Paradise
Cradle To The Grave
Cool For Cats
Another Nail In My Heart
Take Me I’m Yours
Wicked And Cruel
Up The Junction
If I Didn’t Love You
Slap And Tickle
Is That Love
Black Coffee In Bed