Music

Not Pulling Mussels: Squeeze exhibit timeless, dynamic energy at the VETS

by Simru Sonmez-Erbil 

As soon as the opening strains of “Footprints” rang out across The Veterans Memorial Auditorium, I knew it was going to be very hard to keep my camera still. My feet wanted to move, and keep moving.

Squeeze brought their Squeeze Songbook 2020 Tour to the VETS on February 23 and blew the crowd away with dazzling takes on a variety of songs from the band’s extensive catalogue. They treated the audience to nearly two hours of pure non-stop energy.

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It was nearly 47 years ago that Chris Difford, seeking a guitarist for a band, placed an advertisement in a South London sweetshop — an advertisement that Glenn Tilbrook was the only one to answer. However, if someone with no prior Squeeze knowledge heard a set from the Squeeze Songbook Tour, they’d think the lads got together yesterday; the band performed the tunes with an energy, vigor and perspective that kept the songs sounding as fresh as they did when they were first released.

I was situated, camera poised, at the front of the far left aisle of the VETS when Squeeze took the stage on Sunday night. The lights went down, resulting in an eruption of applause from the packed audience, and the smiling seven-piece band dashed onto the stage, picking up their respective instruments. The group made an impression right away with their dapper and bold look, right down to their shoes; all members were decked out in sharp suits of various colors, with Tilbrook in teal and navy stripes paired with yellow dress shoes, and Difford in a burnt orange suit with 1940s style black and white shoes.

The night began with Babylon And On’s “Footprints” seamlessly transitioning into “Big Beng” from the 1985 album Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti, followed up by the US smash hit “Hourglass.”  From the very start, Squeeze’s chemistry and synergy were evident. Tilbrook’s lead vocal sounded as sweet and smooth as ever, and the quintessential Squeeze combination of his voice coupled with Difford’s an octave lower made for a truly sublime experience.  

Difford and Tilbrook were backed by an absolutely top-notch band.  Drummer Simon Hanson and percussionist Steven Smith provided the songs with a dynamism and intensity that flowed along with bassist Sean Hurley’s firm, expressive grooves. Keyboardist Stephen Large brought an enthusiasm to his playing that made the keys an essential feature in every song, and it seemed like there was nothing that multi-instrumentalist Melvin Duffy couldn’t do, switching from lap steel to acoustic to electric and back again seamlessly. The band demonstrated not only powerful instrumentalism, but also impressive vocal talents while singing backup on the tunes they performed.

The night continued with Argybargy’s “Pulling Mussels (From The Shell),” and the crowd jumped to their feet. I don’t think there was a single audience member who didn’t feel like they related to Difford’s poetic lyrics at some point throughout the show.  Difford’s observations of everyday life turned into clever verses and choruses make one marvel at such eloquent expression, and really make living life a whole lot more interesting. The mix of everyday sights and insightful thoughts in songs like “Pulling Mussels,” “Is That Love,” “Goodbye Girl,” and each and every Squeeze song creates an experience for the listener that is unrivaled by any other act.

Tilbrook’s disarming melodies lifted up everyone’s hearts, made them listen in awe and, I imagine, erased any negative emotions they might have been feeling before the show. The average music fan may think of Mr. Tilbrook as an underrated guitarist, but Squeeze fans know his talents and witnessed yet again his soulful licks that characterize Squeeze’s unique sound. He delighted the audience with melodic guitar solos, particularly on songs like “Another Nail In My Heart,” “In Quintessence” and “Black Coffee In Bed,” to name a few. His talents aren’t limited to guitar — he even whipped out a ukulele for “Cradle To The Grave,” the title track to Squeeze’s second-most recent album from 2015.

The band treated us to some new interpretations of iconic songs from their catalogue. “King George Street” was performed in a smooth and flowing manner that had the crowd swaying, with Duffy’s flawless lap steel guitar giving the tune a country-esque flair. Midway through the show, the rest of the band cleared out from the stage, leaving just Tilbrook and Difford onstage with an electric and acoustic guitar, respectively. Their rendition of high-energy hit “In Quintessence” was somehow just as high-energy and invigorating as the original recorded version, even with the absence of the other instruments. The duo followed up with Cool For Cats’ “Slap and Tickle,” once again making the song shine even without the original synthesized parts. The songwriting powerhouse duo truly demonstrated their talent and power as a twosome — the kind of power that caused Squeeze to become such an influential group. The rest of the band joined them once again toward the end of the song to add even more of the original vigor to “Slap and Tickle” that had the whole house bobbing.

As the band left the stage before the encore, the auditorium was filled with nonstop cheering from the audience, and the infectious intro to Squeeze’s first hit “Take Me I’m Yours” began to play as the band got back onstage.  The feeling was of pure euphoria as each member joined in with the groove — everyone was on their feet in nonstop motion. The night ended with a bang: a rendition of “Black Coffee In Bed” that featured an extended solo section, showcasing the talents of all the band members, including a scintillating percussion battle between Mr. Smith and Mr. Hanson. As the show came to a close, we were all left wanting more of the incredible performance that this group had put on; we wanted to see more of their talent showcased in solos, more of the energy that left us feeling so invigorated. It goes without saying that everyone left the venue with a smile on their face. 

If you go to a Squeeze show, don’t be surprised if you find yourself wandering into your local record store the next day and buying the Squeeze albums that you once owned, all the while feeling like you’re buying them for the first time. You’ll feel each song’s vibrant energy that has had this youthful aura and timeless essence since its release, and will remain as such for as long as humans have ears.

For more information on Squeeze, including tour dates and tickets, visit squeezeofficial.com 

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