Squeeze & The English Beat – The Keswick Theatre – Glenside, PA – October 14, 2016
The 70s and 80s were littered with bands that were given the honorary title “the next Beatles” by fans and the music industry. This was usually reserved for particularly melodic and smart rock-pop bands, ones who had sterling critical acclaim and all of the potential in the world. Unfortunately, considering the fact that The Beatles were – and arguably still are – the most popular and culturally relevant band in music, that kind of branding on a new group led to inevitable disappointment.
Squeeze was one of those groups. Exploding out of their native England in the late 70s and early 80s, with acclaimed albums and sharp singles, the rock press was quite certain that they would be the next big thing. However, Squeeze never really became the superstars that they were predicted to be, particularly not in the US, where they only had one song even hit the Billboard Top 40 – and that song, “Hourglass,” in 1987, could hardly be considered the band’s finest, though it was a terrific song. However, now they are remembered more for songs that were lesser hits at the time, such as “Tempted,” “Black Coffee in Bed,” and “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell).”
Their career was eventually stalled by the 90s – as much due to bad timing (their terrific 1991 album Play was released right before their record label IRS collapsed) and while they have recorded periodically over the decades since, they have become mostly a beloved cult act. Therefore, it was a particular treat to see them playing the States again, on a tour for last year’s indie comeback album From the Cradle to the Grave, only the band’s second album of the new millennium.
Watching the band skip through a 23-song set at the Keswick, it was rather depressing that Squeeze never did quite hit the heights predicted for them. They certainly have put together one hell of a set list. They opened up strong, hitting on their biggest US hit “Hourglass” right out of the gate. A whole series of melodically intense and endlessly catchy shoulda-been hits followed, including “Another Nail for My Heart,” undoubtedly one of the happiest sounding broken heart songs ever, the astoundingly propulsive “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell”), the bittersweet weeper “Up the Junction” and the venomous “If I Didn’t Love You.”
Surprisingly for a band so well-known as songwriters, Squeeze also fit in three very cool and adventurous covers. The first one – The Easybeats’ pop classic “Friday on My Mind” – was terrific, but right in the band’s pop wheelhouse. Two later ones were much more adventurous, though. First the band rocked up Jeannie C. Riley’s 1967 classic country novelty tune “Harper Valley PTA,” which worked shockingly well. Then, right after that, Chris Difford took a rare lead vocal on a jamming version of Tom Waits’ “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up.”
Lead vocalist Glenn Tilbrook was still in ace voice, doing a sweet, barbed version of their standard “Tempted” (which was actually sung by Paul Carrack in the original recording). He also stood out on a longingly lovely “Goodbye Girl” and the not-so-playful “Slap and Tickle.” Then again, co-leader Chris Difford nearly stole the show with his cockney accented-lead on the retro bruiser “Cool for Cats.”
Pleasantly, the songs from the new album – like the title track, “Happy Days” and
“Snap Crackle & Pop” – lived up to the band’s legacy and felt perfectly comfortable with the group’s classic songs. By the time the band wound down with the sublime “Black Coffee in Bed” and the pulsing “Take Me I’m Yours” it sort of made you wish that they had indeed become the next Beatles.
Opening up the was Dave Wakeling and the classic ska band The English Beat. (He and his former Beat partner, Ranking Roger, have agreed that Wakeling will carry on the name in the US and Roger will continue to record and tour under the band’s original name The Beat in Europe.) The English Beat were one of the biggest names in ska – a rocked up and rougher version of reggae that exploded out of the Twin Tone label in the late 70s.
The band led off with a serrated-edged cover of Prince Buster’s “Rough Rider,” later exploding into “Rude Boy Skank.” The aisles were full of wild ecstatic dancers (let’s face it, a whole bunch of drunk, middle-aged white folks) by the time the group hit some of their biggest moments, like the pulsing “Save It for Later” (called by Pete Townshend one of the best pop songs ever) and their giddy new wave smash “Tenderness” (which Wakeling and Rogers recorded with their spin-off group General Public.)
The Beat have always had a way with covers as well, and played their biggest ones. “It’s not a concert until someone mangles an old Motown song,” Wakeling joked before launching into his signature reinvention of Smokey Robinson’s “Tears of a Clown.” Then Wakeling also pulled out his cover of The Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There,” which Wakeling and Roger had a hit with in their General Public days. Better still was the band’s wild reinvention of Andy Williams’ (yes, that Andy Williams) “Can’t Get Used to Losing You,” which changes an elevator-music standard into a dancehall romp. (I’m still waiting with bated breath to hear the band’s potentially divine cover of Bob Lind’s “Elusive Butterfly” which Wakeling told me about in an interview a couple of years ago.)
At the short opening-act length for the band, the Beat’s set was almost wall-to-wall fan favorites – lots of sizzle and steak – ending with a rollicking take of “Mirror in the Bathroom” that had the crowd going absolutely wild.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2016 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: October 18, 2016.
Photos by Deborah Wagner © 2016.