Squeeze / The B-52’s
NYCB Theater at Westbury
Sunday, July 15
Better than: Writing in a diary.
Last night the British pop band Squeeze took the slowly rotating stage at Long Island’s NYCB Theater at Westbury (a.k.a. Westbury Music Fair) to their debut single “Take Me I’m Yours,” a grand proclamation of romance that could be filed in a particularly obsessive record store’s New Wave Tango section. It was introduction as seduction, and it could have very well set the table for a night of love songs, where “forever”—or at least until the crew called curfew—”there’ll be a heaven in your kiss.”
But Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford, the two men behind the stalwart pop outfit, wouldn’t be hailed as the MTV era’s finest songwriting duo if they kept everything lovey-dovey. As they showed last night, their strength lies in pairing chiming, but not cloying pop with plainspoken lyrics that outline even the most mundane expressions of heartache in a way that combines humor with genuine pathos—the aural equivalent of Sour Patch Kids, or maybe those all-day suckers vending machines sell that cause the mouth to pucker just before they’re spat out.
During their speedy set, Tilbrook and Difford—backed by a crack combo that included a keyboardist who, while tearing up his instruments, also liked to show off his bendiness—ran through most of their 120 Minutes-era staples and covered a lot of emotional ground, from pregnancy (the still-devastaing “Up The Junction”) to bar-scene disasters (“Cool For Cats,” on which Difford got to showcase his nervy burr) to post-infidelity regret (“Tempted,” which is one of the rare licensed-everywhere songs that can never suffer from overplay) to increasing feelings of agitation as time passes (“Hourglass,” the first Squeeze song I ever heard and still an absolute corker—Tilbrook replicated that track’s squawking sax solo on his guitar); they also played three new tracks, including the sweeping ballad of a bad dude “Tommy” and the peppy rave-up “Top Of The Form.”
Even with the incursions of modern technology (hello, woman who filmed what I think was the entire show on an iPad), the crowd remained in the palm of the band’s hand throughout. Credit Tilbrook, who remains a master showman with an inborn knack for banter and who still possesses a voice that can still soar gloriously over any melody, turning even the most wryly heartbroken lyrics into opportunities for triumphant singalongs. Sure, that sort of pop alchemy is why people turn to records in the first place—the most satisfying songs about romance’s downside transform lemons into lemonade, sour times into sweeter memories. But seeing a band achieve that feat with an amount of polish that was leavened by the precisely correct teaspoon of goofiness was exhilarating.
The deceptively upbeat “Black Coffee In Bed” closed things out, Tilbrook leading the crowd in harmonies while he sang of his attempts to move on from a recently departed lover. His utter brio made the prospect of breaking up with someone not merely liberating, but glorious; sure, the “memories of late nights/ and coffee in bed” would linger, but at least the bitter aftertaste wouldn’t last forever.
The show was a co-headlining gig with the B-52’s, the Southern-fried space-wave outfit that has been around for 35 years now (oh boy do I feel old). So many of their songs were ingrained in the audience’s consciousness thanks to their heavy rotation on the departed (and beloved, if the ovation a mention by Fred Schneider received is any question) Long Island new wave station WLIR. The soaring “Roam” was exquisite; Cindy Wilson gave a particularly spirited rendition of “Give Me Back My Man”; and the agitated “Rock Lobster” got the whole crowd up, a feat when people were worried about blocking the in-the-round view.
Critical bias: Singles remind me of kisses, albums remind me of plans.
Overheard: “I peed during ‘Planet Claire.'”
Random notebook dump: I spent a not-insignificant amount of time wondering about the senior class portraits of my fellow showgoers.
Take Me I’m Yours
If I Didn’t Love You
Is That Love?
Top Of The Form
Another Nail For My Heart
Cool For Cats
Up The Junction
Annie Get Your Gun
Pulling Mussels (From The Shell)
Slap And Tickle
Black Coffee In Bed