Squeeze@Shepherds Bush Empire

5 stars (out of 5)

0

I’m not big on nostalgia gigs but sometimes you have to bend your own rules. When you get the chance to see the best songwriters of the 80s supported by one of the best songwriters of the 90s, it has to be worth a punt.

Some sections of the music press in the early 80s saw Squeeze songwriters Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford as the latest incarnation of Lennon and McCartney, with some justification. The early songs were scenes from Jack-the-lad territory in south-east London but as the band developed they moved on to more adult themes such as relationships and hangovers. In common with The Beatles, Difford and Tilbrook were self-taught which led to a less orthodox approach to chords and melody and gave their songs a very distinctive Squeeze sound.

On to Shepherds Bush Empire, November 2010. The Lightning Seeds open the bill with a tight greatest hits package which demonstrates Ian Broudie’s ability to write the perfect pop song. The set includes “Pure”, “Sugar Coated Iceberg”, “The Life of Riley” and a delicate, stripped down version of the classic Ronettes single “Be My Baby”. It’s a good set of great pop songs played well and the crowd appreciate it, but most of them are here for the main event.

When Squeeze are introduced one by one before the set opener “Black Coffee in Bed”, it’s obvious that this isn’t just a set of oldies cobbled together to make a quick buck. The production values on sound and visuals are very high (including a Scooby Doo style Squeeze cartoon as a backdrop) and even Difford and Tilbrook’s guitars (Telecaster and Stratocaster respectively) are co-ordinated, with a Damien Hirst “Spot” finish. Joining the 2 songwriters are John Bentley on bass (almost an original member, he joined just after the “Cool for Cats” album), drummer Simon Hanson and the joker in the pack, Steve Nieve, the man whose keyboards defined the sound of Elvis Costello & The Attractions. Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook have had a tempestuous relationship at times in the past, but this show is about mutual appreciation and celebration and everyone’s at the top of their game.

It’s difficult to pick out highlights because everything is played so well and the material is taken from virtually the entire span of the band’s career, but here we go anyway. “Up the Junction” sounds like the pop classic it is, “Labelled With Love” has everyone singing along, “Tempted” is still a great song and one of my favourites and “Goodbye Girl” gets yet another new arrangement. The encore of “Slap & Tickle”, “Pulling Mussels From the Shell” and “Another Nail In my Heart” is a trio of perfect pop songs which leaves the audience satisfied and exhausted. The finely-crafted lyrics of Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook’s inventive melodies still sound fresh in 2010 and the performance of the band can’t be faulted. Glenn Tilbrook’s voice has lost none of its character and his guitar solos still sound fresh while Steve Nieve’s keyboards complete the sound and inject the occasional random element (a solo built around the Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg 1969 hit “Je t’aime…”, for example).

It’s difficult to say who enjoyed this gig more, the band or the audience; a great night all round.