Review: The deeper genius of Squeeze

by MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

If you were a music fan looking for flash, the Squeeze show at the Fox Theater at Foxwoods Resort Casino on Aug. 23 was not the place for you.
The band’s leaders Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook didn’t arrive on stage via zipline or a rising platform from beneath the stage. They did not have a runway that ran from the back to the front of the theater. The songs did not get punctuated by bursts of fireworks or laser beams.
The usual concert trappings of a modern band in concert were missing. (Well, there were video clips streaming behind the group.)
The band members barely moved from their spots on stage. Difford drifted a little upstage and downstage again. Keyboardist Stephen Large danced a bit in his spot. Drummer Simon Hanson had some fun with percussion. Tilbrook scrunched up his face during his guitar solos. Percussionist Steven Smith, bassist Yolanda Charles, and pedal steel guitarist Melvin Duffy moved around enough to play their respective instruments.
But there were no in-air splits. There was no “So You Think You Can Dance” worthy moves. No one notched up their cardio steps for the day.
Instead, Squeeze showed a different kind of flash.
They showed a flash of wit. They demonstrated a knack for melodies. They showed how subtle turns of phrase could tell a story. They illustrated what a good pop music hook sounded like.
Essentially, Tilbrook and Difford and the crew flashed their songwriting skills for the entire audience to see … and hear.
In America, Squeeze had a couple of big hits, “Tempted” and “Black Coffee in Bed” (which served as their encore). They also had one big radio fave, “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell).”
But, when you talk about deep tracks, Squeeze was mostly deep tracks in the States.
However, deep tracks have nothing to do with quality. If you dig deep into the songs of Difford and Tilbrook, you will find nothing but gold.
The tour that stopped into Connecticut on Aug. 23 is dubbed The Difford and Tilbrook Songbook Tour. It is intended to illustrate the talent of this twosome who arose from British new wave and in time transcended it.
“Up the Junction,” “In Quintessence,” “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Another Nail in My Heart,” “Love’s Crashing Waves,” “Cradle to Grave” and others demonstrated a sharp eye for storytelling and sharp ear for melody.
The group highlighted some tracks that might have slipped by all but the most ardent fans. “The Third Rail” offers some lovely imagery (“White clouds appear like cotton wool/ The wind bends trees to bow/ As we farewell this love of ours/ Like some old sacred cow”) that steps outside of the lyrical conventions of a love gone wrong. “King George Street” paints an intimate picture of working-class London and some of the pitfalls facing ordinary folks (“She won’t have that behavior in her house any more/ He’s got to sober up or be kicked out of the door”).
In a way, Difford and Tilbrook demonstrated the type of songwriting genius of an Ira and George Gershwin or Cole Porter. They write pop music with more depth than is apparent given its glossy sheen.
The band was zesty and confident as they ripped through tune after tune. Although Difford’s and Tilbrook’s current band weren’t on hand for the group’s recording launch 40 years ago, they demonstrated a superb understanding of the leaders’ songwriting intent.
I already was a fan of Squeeze. But Squeeze’s approach unearthing some lost gems in their songbook, gave me a better appreciation of the group’s skills.
I had long associated Squeeze with, now nostalgic, British new wave. However, in concert, you realize they offered up a timeless and wry commentary of their working-class upbringing and the eternal unsullied truths about love and marriage.
But Difford and Tilbrook wrapped it all up in a tasty coating of memorable melodies that camouflaged the bitter truths within.
I give Squeeze at the Fox Theater at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket on Aug. 23 three out of four stars.