It probably isn’t easy being a fifty-six year old Glenn Tilbrook. In his early twenties, he was a part of a songwriting partnership with Chris Difford that was relentlessly compared to John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Obviously, that comparison was almost silly in its hyperbole, but for a few short years, Tilbrook and Difford churned out some remarkable pop gems. Whether it was a case of peaking early or being crushed by expectations, the songwriting partnership never regained its footing after the band Squeeze first broke up in 1982. Their signature song in the U.S., “Tempted,” was sung by journeyman Paul Carrack, who was having a quick cup of (black) coffee in the band that lasted for one album. The band’s two late 1980s U.S. pop hits, “Hourglass” and “853-5937,” were frivolous at best.
Tilbrook has soldiered on as professional musicians do, with little meaningful critical acclaim or commercial success. Honestly, how many Tilbrook songs can you name from the past two decades? Whether its fair or not, he will always be defined by the series of excellent singles, not albums, that Squeeze released from 1978 through 1981.
Whatever disappointments that life has dealt the man, they disappear onstage. Tilbrook worked hard during this long and uneven performance. He’s constantly trying to squeeze the charm in – doing mock rock star poses, mugging for the crowd, orchestrating sing-alongs, taking requests, and providing wry asides. His voice hasn’t changed much over the decades. He still sounds like a well scrubbed, post adolescent boyish man, pondering the awe and angst in the world with more analysis than passion. When he tested the top range of his register, which he did repeatedly on “You See Me,” he failed every time.
Performing with percussionist Simon Hanson and keyboardist Chris McNally, the show was filled with quirky instrumentation and sound effects. Hanson played a miniature xylophone, a tiny set of English theater drums (which had a boomingly loud sound), and performed one song on what looked to be a recycling bin. On “Beachland Ballroom,” Tilbrook integrated a deafening electronic chant that could have filled a sports arena.
Ultimately, the instruments and effects were more ear candy and amusement than sonic definition. It all boiled down to the songs and Tilbrook remains at his best when he’s dissecting the minutia and dynamics of romantic relationships. Highlights included the lost love connection of “Parallel World,” the dead lover in “Some Fantastic Place,” and the Fleetwood Mac/Peter Green cover of “Oh Well,” which allowed Tilbrook to show off his impressive guitar playing skills. On the negative side of the ledger, “Dennis” (about Wilson) and “Rupert” (about Murdock) were both clunky missteps.
As the evening progressed, Tilbrook focused on the Squeeze standards that the audience had paid to hear. The first set ended with a solo, acoustic version of “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell,” a marvel of a pop song, chocked full of beautiful chords and lyrics. In the second set, Tilbrook performed “Up the Junction,” his compact, gut-wrenching story about a man that chooses the bottle over his family. The Difford and Tilbrook songwriting partnership wasn’t built to last, but for a short time they harnessed the magic that pop music dreams are made of.
For the final encore, Tilbrook and the band left the stage and sang “Goodbye Girl” while strolling through the crowd like a band of merry minstrels. I was stunned that the entire audience seemed to know every line. It was undeniable – the past had been bottled and labeled with love.
Grade – B
Setlist, First Set:
Best of Times
Annie Get Your Gun
You See Me
One for the Road
Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)
Setlist, Second Set
Up the Junction
The Glimpse That I Get (?)
Ray and Me
Until You Come Back to Me
Some Fantastic Place
Is That Love
Kevin and Dave
Chat Line Larry
Take Me, I’m Yours
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