BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Taking a victory lap mid-way thru their fifth decade together, the British band Squeeze performed a highly entertaining career spanning concert at the Fox Theater in Oakland on Thursday night.
Promoted as “The Squeeze Songbook Tour,” lead singer and guitarist Glenn Tilbrook and his songwriting partner, guitarist Chris Difford, have shared the stage with many illustrious bandmates over the years including Jools Holland, Paul Carrack, Steve Nieve and Aimee Mann since first forming in the clubs of London in 1974. They’ve also been produced by the likes of Elvis Costello and Dave Edmunds.
Vastly underrated, the duo of Difford and Tillbrook’s catalog of work and endurance puts them on a short list behind only Lennon and McCartney and very few others amongst the most prolific collaborators of the last half century. Being in the same company with such elite duos such as Elton John and Bernie Taupin, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Don Henley and Glenn Frey and Walter Becker and Donald Fagen of Steely Dan is rarified air, even if lots of folks only recognize their music but don’t know them by name.
While the band has had numerous line-up changes over the years, the brilliance and witty lyricism of Difford and Tilbrook has produced such well known hits as “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell),” “Tempted,” and “Annie Get Your Gun.” Each was played during the 90 minute show that featured cuts from 13 different albums the band has produced in the 41 years since their self-titled 1978 debut was released at the dawn of the new wave movement.
With the bands last album The Knowledge released in 2018, the current tour has been designed as more of an opportunity for them to provide an overview of their entire catalog including lesser known cuts and rarities as opposed to simply emphasizing their latest material. In fact, only one track, “Please Be Upstanding,” was performed from last years release, one of eight albums to be so represented.
Taking the stage to the unique video backdrop of the band arriving and setting up at The Fox just hours earlier, Squeeze opened with the unheralded “Footsteps” from 1987’s Babylon and On as the packed crowd showed their appreciation with a manic energy level that would only increase throughout the night. Minutes later, “Mussels” and “Hourglass, the first two widely known hits of the evening, quickly left no doubt that this would strictly be be an night of deep cuts.
It would only get better from there as tracks like “Third Rail” from Some Fantastic Place, “In Quintessence” from 1981’s East Side Story, “Cradle to Grave,” “Cool For Cats” and “Slap and Tickle” would soon follow in the fast paced show. What was becoming quite clear surveying the room was that everyone was engaged and smiling, leaving their outside affairs and cell phone monitoring behind in what was undeniably becoming a welcome escape from the realities of everyday life.
While there is no Squeeze without Difford or Tilbrook, make no mistake that the lads aren’t remotely flying blind. That was quickly made abundantly clear during the nights fourth number, “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell),” as keyboardist Stephen Large and drummer Simon Hanson both elevated the iconic hit with extended solos. Melvin Duffy was also an electrifying man of many instruments, providing lap steel, slide, electric and acoustic mandolin, along with Yolanda Charles on bass and Steven Smith on percussion.
As the show progressed, the nostalgia of seeing nearly a half century of Squeeze memorabilia plastered on the video monitor throughout the night signaled the inevitable onslaught of hits that would close the show. On the shortlist of the bands most well-known songs, “Tempted,” was originally sung by Carrack on East Side Story, but he was only with the band for the one album and left a year later. It’s been legendarily preserved by Tilbrook’s golden pipes for close to 40 years now, but Thursday he shared the vocals with the audience in an acoustic sing along.
Other fan favorites like “Goodbye Girl” and Argybargy’s “Another Nail in My Heart” and “If I Didn’t Love You” would close the set. Returning for a lively three song encore with “Take Me I’m Yours” and “Is That Love,” the band would bring the curtain down on the all too brief affair with a nearly ten minute version of Sweets From a Stranger’s “Back Coffee in Bed” featuring solos from each member of the band as they were introduced.
Surprisingly, for a duo that’s shared such a successful and productive partnership for so long, there was no real interaction between Difford or Tilbrook. They didn’t even join hands during the traditional encore bow when saluting their audience. Strange, but no one was complaining or questioning their genius. While Tilbrook was charming and engaging throughout the night, the line of the night went to Difford who quipped that Squeeze was formed in 1973 only after he turned down an invitation to join Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.
Squeeze’s “The At Odds Couple Tour,” continues with shows Friday in Los Angeles and Saturday at the KAABOO Festival in Del Mar.