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Review: BWW REVIEWS: SQUEEZE at Express Live

Even after nearly 50 years of playing, Squeeze can still provide a raucous concert

Photo: Sheryl Hennen

A little nostalgia can be a dangerous thing. After seeing Squeeze live in 1988, I had the chance to see the 1980s New Wave darlings nearly two decades later in Cleveland. I walked away thinking I had just seen one of my favorite bands sucking down the last dregs of their popularity.

However, I might have to rethink that assessment after seeing Glenn Tilbrook, Chris Difford and company on Aug. 18 at Express Live (405 Neil Avenue in downtown Columbus). The success of their albums "Cradle to the Grave" (2015) and the Knowledge (2017) pumped new life and energy into a band that seemingly had lost their way in the early 2000s.

Dusting off 1987's "Footprints in the Frost" for its opener, the band fired a five-song salvo, hitting "Big Beng," "Hourglass," "Pulling Muscles from a Shell," and "Up the Junction" before taking a breath.

Between the songs banter was kept to a minimum, with the one exception being Tilbrook's explanation of "I Think I'm Go Go," a deep cut from the East Side Story album (1981).

"Chris (Difford, the band's lyricist) came up with a really brilliant lyric on this one," Tilbrook said. "He wrote this after we had been in three cities - London, Amsterdam, and New York -- in a span of five days. Not a bad gig but after it, our heads were spinning a bit."

Tilbrook's tenor voice, even after 40 years of relentless touring, gleamed like a perfectly cut diamond as he went through a cavalcade of hits like "Goodbye Girl" and "Tempted" and deeper cuts like "Third Rail" and the delightful "Woman's World." His voice often overshadowed his mastery of skillfully woven guitar riffs with the one exception being when he broken a guitar string midway through "Black Coffee In Bed." Tilbrook patiently held his guitar aloft while waiting for a roadie to retrieve and replace it. Forced to sing without a guitar, Tilbrook muffed a chorus of the song but the band covered it nicely. Once he strapped a new guitar around his neck, Tilbrook recovered quickly and finished the song with much gusto.

Tilbrook's pitch perfect voice was offset by the gravelly growling of Difford, who provided the grit to "Cold Shoulder" and "Cool for Cats." One of the show's many highlights came when the band's primary architects, Tilbrook (armed with his electric guitar) and Difford (on an acoustic one) attacked crowd favorite "Slap and Tickle" as a duo.

Yet Squeeze was at its best when it performed as a seven-piece band. Drummers Simon Hanson and Steve Smith, bassist Owen Biddle, keyboardist Stephen Lange and multi-instrumentalist Melvin Duffy fleshed out the band's full sound.

The Aug. 18 show marked the end of the father-and-son portion of the tour with Tilbrook's son Leon offering a low-key opening for the show. He announced that he was returning to England after the Columbus gig. As a subtle thank-you to his son, the elder Tilbrook incorporated some of his son's lyrics into "Black Coffee," the final tune from the three-song encore.

Before the tour, Tilbrook said, "I think this is my most anticipated U.S. tour since our first in 1978. Our great band is just getting greater."

Judging by the Aug. 18 show, Tilbrook just might be right.

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