City National Grove of Anaheim
Armed with little more than an electric piano, guitars, and some of the greatest pop-rock songs this side of the Beatles, Squeeze's Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook turned the Grove of Anaheim into "Some Fantastic Place" last Friday evening.
The duo, the nucleus of the long-running English group that formed some 40 years ago, left the group's bassist, drummer and keyboardist at home for the cheekily named "The At Odds Couple: An Evening of Acoustic Squeeze." It was a risky move for an outfit known for the fullness of its sound.
Difford and Tilbrook quickly put any worries to rest. The pair opened strongly with a trio of beloved Squeeze classics, "Take Me, I'm Yours," "Cool For Cats" and "Black Coffee In Bed," which Tilbrook played alone at an electric piano, his powerful, honey-cured vocals leaving the graying crowd awestruck.
The safe course for the Squeeze frontmen would have been to continue down memory lane pumping out the hits, preferably in order, from their platinum 1982 compilation, "Singles 45's and Under." Maybe sprinkle in a handful of other well-known songs such as "Hourglass," "Labelled With Love" and "In Quintessence" and call it a day.
Instead, Difford and Tilbrook played "Nirvana," a new song from "Cradle To The Grave," the band's first batch of originals in 17 years and best long player since 1993's "Some Fantastic Place."
"Nirvana," propelled by a slinky disco beat accented with a sitar, chronicles a failing marriage in the kind of rich detail that makes Difford such a compelling lyricist. ("Each day like the one before/Her dreams evaporated as the weeks and months turn into years"). Difford and Tilbrook introduced several other inspired newbies, including the title track, "Cradle To The Grave," and the sing-along "Happy Days."
When Difford crowed that British fans shouted for new songs during the band's recent tour, I believed him.
That Difford and Tilbrook would flourish in this stripped-down setting isn't entirely surprising. They're old pros at this acoustic thing. In late 1989, Squeeze played the first-ever episode of "MTV Unplugged," wowing the audience with a spirited version of "Pulling Muscles (From The Shell)," just as they would on this night.
Like every artist, though, Squeeze can have the occasional off night when everything goes off the rails. Such was the case a few years back at the Grove. A shambolic and slightly tipsy Tilbrook bounded wildly across the stage, much to the chagrin of a silently stewing Difford. I figured I had seen the last of Squeeze.
The band's resurrection is as welcome as it is unexpected.
Still, not everything in Friday's show worked.
Difford's otherwise rich baritone went oddly lifeless on the minor hit "Electric Trains." A distracting video of a distorted woman dancing in circles in a subway car accompanied the song. Tilbrook, whose soulful tenor remains one of music's marvels, strained to hit a few of the high notes.
Most disappointing, the pair ignored large swaths of their catalogue, playing next to nothing from the late 1980s and 1990s. That meant no "Footprints," "Hourglass," and only a sample of "If It's Love," one of Squeeze's perfect pop confections.
Those minor bumps aside, the nearly two-hour concert sparkled. Difford and Tilbrook's voices blended beautifully as did their chemistry. The duo ended the evening by trotting out stalwarts "Tempted," "Another Nail In My Heart" and an impassioned "Goodbye Girl." The audience responded with a standing ovation.
Squeeze had pulled off the near impossible: bathing in the warm glow on nostalgia, while simultaneously moving forward into a promising future.