Although last night's sold-out Beachland Ballroom show was dubbed "The At Odds Couple: An Evening Of Acoustic Squeeze," the concert was anything but a perfunctory stripped-down gig. For starters, Squeeze principal members Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford began the show with a delightful gag: As a recording of "It's A Beautiful Day" played over the sound system, the pair emerged from underneath the covers of two (separate) beds on the stage—fitting, since the stage props and dressing resembled a whimsical child's bedroom—to reveal that each was sporting a pair of plaid flannel pajamas. The men sauntered to a kitchen table near the front of the stage, poured some orange juice, and only broke the pretend wake-up routine by grabbing acoustic guitars and breaking into the chestnut "Take Me I'm Yours."
The rest of the show—which was divided into two sets, with a half-hour break in between—was a well-paced, well-chosen look at both Squeeze's back catalog, Difford and Tilbrook's solo work, and the band's new album, Cradle To The Grave
, their first LP in 17 years. The intimate musical approach especially highlighted the ornate arrangements and intricate harmonies of new tunes such as "Nirvana" and "Everything." Recent song "Happy Days," meanwhile, was simply pristine, from the dueling vocals on through to Tilbrook's electric guitar, while "Beautiful Game" boasted lovely melodies and chord progressions. On these songs—and for the duration of the show—a video screen at the back of the stage enhanced the proceedings even more by running cinematic vignettes ranging from pastoral nature scenes to artsier, abstract clips.
The duo setup also gave the men a chance to rework some of their denser material. Perhaps most impressive was "Slap & Tickle," which found Tilbrook substituting galloping electric guitar for the song's familiar keyboard intro, and a solo Difford rendition of "Cool For Cats." During the latter, the entire crowd sang the crooning chorus back at the stage at impressive volumes. Not to be outdone, Tilbrook then did a solo keyboard version of "Black Coffee In Bed" that overflowed with soul.
Difford performed a more extended solo set near the end of the first half which included "Cowboys Are My Weakness" (a song apparently written for k.d. lang, who didn't end up using it), "Fat As A Fiddle"—which he hilariously and randomly dedicated to Sting—and "Wrecked," a song about his days as a teenage dope smoker. Although the latter two songs featured overtly humorous lyrics and wordplay, they also possessed plenty of wistful nostalgia and even a touch of regret, ensuring they were understated standouts.
Tilbrook started off the second half of the night with his own solo set highlighted by the bluesy "Still" and a powerful solo keyboard version of "The Elephant Ride." Difford then joined him onstage, and Tilbrook switched to electric guitar for the always-jaunty "Annie Get Your Gun" and "The Truth," which found him unleashing a particularly cutting solo. The rest of the night was basically a Squeeze greatest hits set. "Pulling Mussels (From The Shell)" came complete with a Tilbrook psychedelic guitar solo, while "Tempted" turned into another raucous sing-along and had a scratchy soul breakdown, and "Is That Love?" was pop perfection. The encore featured brisk but economical run-throughs of "Another Nail In My Heart," "Goodbye Girl" and "If I Didn't Love You"; the latter stuttered like a skipping vinyl record, highlighting its unorthodox new wave origins.
The only real downside of the show were the pockets of incredibly loud, talkative audience members, which seemed to be concentrated in the general admission sections near the back and right side of the venue. The crowd was so noisy, in fact, that Tilbrook paused during the fourth song, "Nirvana," and asked people to "keep the chat down," as it was audible over the song. Things did eventually subside to a dull roar after that, but his pre-break announcement referenced the loud talking again—a pointed reminder that he hadn't forgotten about the rude conversationalists. Tickets are still available for the second night of Squeeze's acoustic stand, at 8 p.m. tonight at the Beachland Ballroom; hopefully, tonight's crowd will be more attentive and quieter.