Face the Music: legendary British rock and new wave band Squeeze perform at Aura in Portland


Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford of Squeeze. Photo by Danny Clifford

British rock band Squeeze makes a stop in Portland as they cross the country on a 24-date headlining tour. Additionally, the band plays a handful of opening shows for Hall & Oates.

There aren’t many albums that I can’t get enough of, and the “45’s and Under” Squeeze compilation is one of them. I’ve had a vinyl copy since college and still feel the same about his dozen tracks that I had in my freshman dorm a long time ago – I love them.

Never stale, always smart and filled with very listenable 80s songs like “Tempted”, “Black Coffee in Bed”, “Cool for Cats”, “Annie Get Your Gun” and especially “Up the Junction”, album no. never disappoints. But don’t call them an act of nostalgia. In total, they released 15 studio albums including “The Knowledge” in 2017.

When “Tempted” arrives on the radio, the volume goes up and I cling to each note, to each line, especially “Next to my empty pocket, a foot without a sock / Your body is getting very close, I’m looking for the clock / Alarmed by the seduction / I wish this would stop. Truth be told, I haven’t been able to buy a toothbrush without singing the first line of the song “I bought a toothbrush” for as long as I can remember.

The heart and soul of Squeeze are its two founding members, singer Glenn Tillbrook and guitarist Chris Difford. If you think I didn’t run to the latter on the street in Boston before a show in 2016, you’d be wrong. Difford was a nice guy to chat with and was happy to pose for a selfie with me and my wife, Tracy. It was the one and only time I saw Squeeze, and I have no doubt the Portland show will be as sensational as this one.

It turns out that “Tempted” is a favorite for Difford to play live. During a Zoom conversation from his parked tour bus in Hershey, Pa., Difford told me that for him the song opened like a flower. “It envelops everyone and it makes me really adorable.”

Difford also said the tour has been going well so far. When they do Hall & Oates dates, they stick to the hits, but when they’re headlining, like with the Portland show, they add deeper album cuts as well. The tour is long but that doesn’t bother Difford. “Once you show up in front of an audience, you realize how lucky you are. “

Squeeze has been running on and off since the late 1970s and it’s safe to say that they’ve played many of their songs hundreds, if not thousands, of times live. Does it ever get old? Not for Difford. “I feel full of joy and I feel very grateful.” Not only that, but he continues to be a student of his own music. “As many times as I’ve played ‘Pulling Mussels (From The Shell)’, the more I play it, the more I learn more about the song and how to perform it.”

Difford and Tillbrook are one of the strongest, most talented and successful songwriting teams out there. Difford is the lyrics guy and Tillbrook writes the music, and together they’re an unstoppable force in mastering songwriting.

But don’t just take my word for it. I reached out to super local Squeeze fan Beth Round from Westbrook and asked her why she loved them so much. “They were the first group I fell in love with. Each song tells a story with melodies that you don’t mind getting stuck in your head. That and they are the most fun and satisfying live band for fans.

As for me, my favorite Squeeze song is “Up the Junction”. The song has no chorus and the name of the song is only sung once, at the very end. “Up the Junction” is a series of nursery rhymes about a young love that has turned sour. Despite the bad turn things are taking, the song is bright and cheerful and I can’t hear it without a smile. Plus, Tilbrook’s rhyming game can’t be beat. “I found a job with Stanley, he said I would be useful / And started me on Monday, so I took a bath on Sunday” – 14k lyrical gold.

The same could be said for “Pulling Mussels (From The Shell)” and its lines: “Squinting faces at the sky / A Harold Robbins paperback, Surfers drop their boards and dry. And everyone wants a hat. This one has a chorus, and I can’t wait to sing along to it, even if it’s through a face covering.

Then there’s “Cool For Cats,” one of the few where Difford takes the lead vocals with his distinct Cockney accent. It’s a song that jumps up and down like you’re on a pogo stick. “To change the mood a bit, I posed in the pub / Seeing my reflection, I look a bit rough.” The song bounces along a zippy clip and never lets go.

“Black Coffee in Bed” is another gold nugget from Tillbrook’s first keyboard riff and opening line: “There’s a stain on my notebook where my cup of coffee was.” This one is all about backing vocals and I started practicing my “fire in my eyes”, “barely contain” and most importantly “black black black”, although I didn’t need to. The song and its six minutes of excellence have been ingrained in the brain for decades.

Tillbrook said the band is focused on their current tour for now, but in a few years work on a new album will begin. This is very good news for this cat.

The Portland show was scheduled to take place last year, but we all know what happened. Luckily, live music is back, at least for now, and this fully vaccinated fan can’t wait to see Squeeze.

Squeeze will most certainly play “Pulling Mussels (From The Shell)” and Difford has every intention of opening a lobster in Maine.

9 p.m. Monday, August 16. Aura, 121 Center St., Portland, $ 55 to $ 80, 18 and over. auramaine.com.


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