Summertime concert-going can be an exercise in “pick your nostalgia.” Do you want to see Heart or Pavement? The Scorpions or Cheap Trick? Last night, I chose the early ‘80s New Wave-y variety of nostalgia, going to see a double bill of the English Beat and Squeeze at Los Angeles’ Gibson Amphitheatre.
Opening the show was the English Beat, which is now original frontman Dave Wakeling and a younger supporting cast. While professing to having some “weak knees” about playing in front of his adopted hometown audience, Wakeling enthusiastically ran through a set featuring key Beat tunes: “I Confess,” “Save It For Later, “Can’t Get Use To Losing You,” and their version of “Tears of a Clown.” His supporting cast was game, with toaster Antonee particularly enlivening the festivities with some nimble wordplay. Wakeling’s voice came off a little thin and got swallowed up a bit by the Gibson’s acoustics; however, the appreciative audience didn’t seem to mind. The band wrapped up their nearly hour-long performance with an especially energetic performance of “Mirror In The Bathroom,” which stood out as a set highlight.
Squeeze got the crowd on its feet from the opening notes of their lead-off tune, “Take Me I’m Yours.” It was a rousing rendition that set the tone for the rest of the evening. Lead singer Glenn Tilbrook showed that his voice is still as strong as ever, and he also flashed some aggressive guitar playing, which signaled that this just wasn’t a night for rote renditions by a band reuniting for a cash-grab. Tilbrook’s guitar work is something that often gets overlooked in the praise for his songwriter skills with longtime musical partner Chris Difford.
The band didn’t overlook their popular numbers; they filled the night with many fan favorites, like “Goodbye Girl,” “Black Coffee in Bed,” “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Tempted,” “Slap & Tickle” and the Difford showpiece “Cool For Cats.” They also displayed a genuinely fun vibe to their performance. In “Black Coffee,” for instance, Tilbrook sparred instrumentally with keyboardist Stephen Large. In fact, one of the show’s surprises was the strength of the band beyond Tilbrook and Difford. Large was a not only talented on the keys (his karate chops keyboard moves on “Slap & Tickle” were quite impressive) but also revealed an endearingly humorous presence. Both he and drummer Simon Hanson play in Tilbrook’s “other” band, the Fluffers, so it’s easy to see how they slip in naturally as Squeeze men. Similarly, the bassist John Bentley is a familiar face having played in the band back in the ‘80s.
The thoroughly entertaining concert also served as a reminder of the massively impressive song library that Difford and Tilbrook built over the years. Not only have they composed hooky, literate tunes like “Tempted” or “Is That Love” but they really crafted some truly unique numbers. It’s hard to think of rock songs that are crafted as inventively as “Up The Junction” “Pulling Mussels From A Shell” or “Cool For Cats” that are also catchy and memorable.
Although Difford and Tilbrook have had some rough patches in their professional relationship over the years, they now seem to be enjoying playing together. Tilbrook, in fact, told the crowd that they “love each other again,” while Difford said that standing next to Tilbrook on stage was one reason that his job was one of the best in the world. The band is releasing soon a disc entitled Spot The Difference, on which they re-recorded their classic tunes. While this could seem like another way to repackage their greatest hits and regain some publishing rights, the skill and enthusiasm that the band brought to this concert suggests that the album should also be just as joyous a journey down memory lane as the show was.