Celebrating their 45th anniversary as a band, Squeeze brought their Songbook Tour to The Bomb Factory Thursday night with the foundational punk band X as their opening act.
Once heralded by Rolling Stone as the heirs to the throne left vacant by The Beatles' John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the songwriting team of Squeeze's Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook kicked off in 1973 when Tilbrook was the only person to respond to Difford's notice in a bakery window seeking a guitar player for a band that did not yet exist.
Though the band has broken up on two occasions — once in 1982 and again in 1999 — Difford and Tillbrook have maintained a close songwriting relationship that produced 1984's Difford & Tilbrook album, which is now seen as part of Squeeze's catalog.
Then there was X.
What makes the opening band worth seeing, at any show, is watching how each band complements the other's stand-out qualities. It's even better when those qualities are unexpected. Looking around at all the X T-shirts that crowded the front of the stage, and the more reserved crowd in the back and up top, it was clear that even the audience was a little unsure about why the bands were playing together. By the end of the night, the answer was clear.
Even though he was seated throughout the performance, Billy Zoom absolutely shredded his hollow-body with his signature sped-up rockabilly swagger and swooning slow jams, standing up only to play sax during “Come Back to Me” from Under the Big Black Sun, while drummer D.J. Bonebrake took over the xylophone.
Exene Cervenka and John Doe sang in their off-kilter harmony, staying animated and energetic during the entire 50-minute set, playing mostly melodic deep cuts (like their cover of Lead Belly’s “Dancing with Tears in My Eyes” that kept the energy mellow) and saving their frantic singles “World’s a Mess; It’s in My Kiss,” “Johnny Hit and Run Pauline” and “Los Angeles” until later in the set.
For the most part, X kept the songs slow and the varied instrumentation up, showing they were far more than a classic punk band. Squeeze, on the other hand, set out to prove they were more than just your dad’s favorite power pop band.
Now, for anyone only casually familiar with Squeeze from songs like their transatlantic breakthrough hit "Tempted" or possibly “Black Coffee in Bed,” a classic punk band like X may seem like an odd choice. However, Squeeze's early work has much more of a fast-paced, new wave sound more fitting of a playlist featuring New Order or Depeche Mode (see "Take Me I'm Yours”).
Though they were arguably more mainstream, Squeeze actually followed a similar career trajectory as X. While Tilbrook's vocals are technically more polished than that of Doe, and the harmonies far more, well, harmonious, the two bands were at one time actually quite similar in their approach to music.
Take the song "Third Rail" from Squeeze's 1993 album Some Fantastic Place. If you were to remove Tilbrook's voice, you would have something that sounds like a cleaned-up version of anything off X's 1993 album Hey Zeus!
The show had its predictable moments, with Squeeze playing the album-quality, chipper versions of “Footprints,” “Love’s Crashing Waves,” “Goodbye Girl” and “The Day I Get Home,” but in the controlled discordance of “Big Beng,” “Someone Else’s Heart,” “If I Didn’t Love You” and “Hourglass,” the band’s new wave roots showed through.
When the band reached “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)” and “Annie Get Your Gun,” played with a speed and gusto unheard of on their records, it was pretty clear what was happening. Squeeze hasn’t let the years age them. They’ve got a lot more jams to kick out.
The show did have its slower moments, like when they dusted off “King George Street” and “Labeled with Love” for the Texas audience — songs that would be considered country if they weren’t sung with an English accent.
In the most X-like moments of the show, Difford and Tilbrook ran through break-neck, rockabilly versions of “Slap & Tickle” and “In Quintessence” alone onstage. When rejoined by the band, Squeeze cranked out a version of “Is That Love,” “Cool for Cats,” “Another Nail in My Heart” and, indeed, “Third Rail,” following the same musical vein.
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Tilbrook started “Tempted” off as a duet between himself and the audience, with Difford joining in on his vocal parts before the band joined in quietly at first, then in jubilation in the song’s close. Clearly this was the act of a band giving their most famous song to their audience.
Squeeze's encore performance condensed the full scope of the band’s range. With “Please Be Upstanding” showing their sweetness, “Take Me I’m Yours” bringing the audience back to the English clubs that gave the band their start — a number complete with strobe lights and synthesizers — and their mega-hit “Black Coffee in Bed” showing how much fun it all could be.
Squeeze and X may not be together on your playlist, but after Thursday night’s performance, perhaps you should reconsider your mix.