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Squeeze's fun, enthusiastic concert is a pleasing success


With special guest Randy Black.

Orpheum Theater, Boston (7:30 show)

Wednesday, November 29.


THERE ARE CERTAIN INDISPUTABLE truths found in everyday life in this part of the world. For example, the T always breaks down when you are in the greatest hurry. MIT professors assign too much homework. TV weathermen are usually wrong about snowfall. And Squeeze always gives great concerts when they come to the Boston area. The latter truth was proven yet again last Wednesday night in the first of two shows they played at the Orpheum Theater.

Granted, this show had its problems, but they actually had little to do with the band. The 7:30 show had been moved from the Worcester Centrum, and a second Orpheum show was added at 10:30. Grumbling fans were still exchanging tickets past the beginning of Randy Black's set, and Squeeze's set had to be kept short so as not to run into the second show's starting time, a problem for any band with such a large and varied song catalogue. The crowd was also surprisingly subdued for the first half of the show, highly unusual at any Squeeze concert.

Opener Randy Black didn't help the atmosphere much. His short acoustic set (with some assistance from a sax player on one song) was somewhat pleasant but basically forgettable. He knew how to play guitar well enough, and his lyrical references to "blood flowing like the cars on Storrow Drive" and Kenmore Square were amusing, but for the most part his attitude was little more than annoying, and he had a hard time holding anyone's attention.

But the 75-minute Squeeze set was a pleasing success. The set list showcased their latest album Frank, especially in the rousing sing-a-long of "Is It Love," the album's first single. They also played old favorites like "Cool for Cats" and "Pulling Mussels (From a Shell)." (The omission of "Another Nail From My Heart" is one that I hope they will not repeat in their longer sets, however.) The band even included a rave-up on an obscure cover, "Boogie Woogie Country Girl" by Big Joe Turner. During that number and "Dr. Jazz" -- an ode to New Orleans night life -- Jools Holland alternated his customary witty banter with the audience and made his great honky-tonk piano playing look effortless.

Other, more subdued members of the band were also instrumental to the evening's enjoyable qualities. Drummer Gilson Lavis took a rare drum solo to start the first encore, which segued nicely into "Goodbye Girl" and had the crowd cheering for more. Chris Difford, Squeeze's main lyricist and also their rhythm guitar player, was his usual steadfast and pleasant self, singing a few numbers (such as the next single from Frank, "Love Circles") and joking with the other members of the band during the songs. Even quiet bassman Keith Wilkinson was hopping about the risers of the attractive, minimally-decorated black and red stage, falling off the edge of the unsteady drum riser at one point (backstage after the show, he joked, "If Gilson falls over during the next set, you'll know why!"). And new keyboard player Matt Irving (formerly with Paul Young's band, the Royal Family) suits the talents and personality of the band much more than his predecessor, Andy Metcalfe of Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians.

The unquestionable highlight of the show, however, was the antics of lead guitarist and vocalist Glenn Tilbrook. Would I consider him a hard-rocking guitar hero? Well, after Wednesday's show, I think so. He must have seen a Who concert in the recent past, because his guitar toss near the beginning of the show and his funny, mock-savage riffs seemed to have been inspired by Pete Townshend. He was in great form instrumentally and also in great voice, unafraid to try some new twists on some older songs. I don't think that I have ever enjoyed his work as much as I did at this concert -- his enthusiasm was infectious and made the whole experience even more fun for everyone there.

All in all, even the band agreed that the switch to the Orpheum was more conducive to a good concert. Gilson Lavis said that he preferred smaller Boston venues to the larger Worcester hall, in terms of both size and local fan enthusiasm. That attitude is a refreshing change from that of most popular bands, who all seem to believe that bigger is better. Squeeze likes to be close to their fans, right down to playing to college audiences as often as possible. In fact, when asked about college concerts after the show, Glenn Tilbrook implied that the band might be willing to play MIT once again, as they did for the 1987 spring weekend concert (are you listening, SCC?). In light of the show I saw, they have sold at least one ticket already.