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Play tour brings a revitalized Squeeze to Boston

SQUEEZE

With The Candyskins.

Avalon, Nov. 11, 8 pm.

By PAULA CUCCURULLO

IN THESE TIMES OF FINANCIAL recession, the live concert trade is suffering. Few bands can afford to tour extensively, and only a select few can sell out more than one date per city. So it is heartening to see that good music can still draw a crowd -- such as Squeeze's return, by popular demand, to play their second sold-out Boston show in less than a month. The concert, a rare club date, was a unique opportunity for both the band and the crowd to cut loose on an otherwise dreary November night.

The past few years have been less than fulfilling for Squeeze. Their last few albums were critical favorites but commercial failures due to lack of publicity

from their longtime record label, A & M. Squeeze's songs were as melodic and haunting as ever, but they lacked a wide audience (with Bostonians always being the exception to that rule). They even lost founder member Jools Holland to his solo career.

But with their new label Warner/Reprise, two new keyboardists (one, Don Snow, played with the band in 1982) and the successful new album Play, the band seems revitalized. They were certainly ready for a party with an eager Boston crowd.

Monday's show at Avalon was notable both for its focus on the new album -- featuring eight of Play's twelve songs -- and its new takes on old Squeeze standbys and covers, notably T. Rex's "Bang a Gong" and Smokey Robinson's "Tears of a Clown." The concert was also a milestone for the band, since rhythm guitarist/singer Chris Difford calculated that it was approximately the band's thousandth live show. (Guitarist/singer Glenn Tilbrook commented that it was apt that such an occasion should fall on Veteran's Day!) The mood was appropriately festive for the occasion, with Squeeze's elaborate light show modified but still exciting in the small venue, and with the band playing up the laughs and displaying their musical talents in equal measure.

And very talented musicians these are, a fact which is often pushed aside by appreciation of their ability to craft pure pop songs. Even Difford's numerous broken strings failed to dampen his enthusiastic rhythm lines. Most impressive were the band's solos during their classic show-closer, "Black Coffee in Bed," which played like a cross-section of their musical influences. Tilbrook's guitar wailings were from the finest rock and blues tradition, while bassist Keith Wilkinson leaned more towards a jazz fusion edge, and drummer Gilson Lavis pounded his kit ragged with his big-band-inspired sound. Snow's boogie-woogie keyboard pounding was enough to make even the band cheer and offer him handshakes afterwards.

The Candyskins, an Oxford five-piece band, started out in promising fashion with their alternative-radio hit "Submarine Song" but bogged down in a rut of pleasant yet dull guitar rock. The lead singer became the most entertaining feature of the show, joking with the crowd and asking at one point for big smiles as he snapped its picture. The Candyskins did seem to focus at midset and regain their energy with a faithful cover of Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" and stayed on a high note to the end of their set.