Squeeze at Shepherd's Bush Empire, London live review

'Nights like this reaffirm the ageless quality of perfect pop'

Photographer: Sara BowreyJohn Bownas on 17 December 2020

Squeeze is the word at Shepherd’s Bush Empire tonight.

Getting into those once-comfy jeans is a Squeeze for an aging crowd of almost-fifty somethings seeking out lost teen years.

Getting into the venue is a Squeeze as the main room groans over-capacity, despite this being the second London date in a row and with one more tomorrow at the O2.

Getting to the bar is a Squeeze – no surprises there then.

And Squeeze are Squeeze. Difford and Tilbrook…always there since 1974. John Bentley, settled nicely back into in the bass position after all those years away. And ‘new boys’ Stephen Large and Simon Hanson – ably filling empty shoes.

The band canter onto the stage to an introduction courtesy of an animated line-drawing of Sir Bruce Forsyth and hit the ground running with a set that will be instantly familiar to anyone who has been following their current ‘pop up shop’ tour in any detail.

Only one song is at variance with the set list from a few nights ago as ‘Some Fantastic Place’ is tonight replaced with ‘Hourglass’ - which to many is a welcome move, as this is one tune that really doesn’t warrant any time languishing on the subs bench.

The set list is a tour de force in exemplary timeless classics and new material – with one late-era album track ‘re-imagined as a nifty bit of electro-pop,’ as Tilbrook so boyishly announces as he tucks an arm behind his back and taps out the keyboard parts to ‘Without You Here’ one-handed.

And mentioning Glen Tilbrook briefly, it’s quite clear that he has brought his biggest fan with him tonight…what else could explain his permanently waving locks of hair that threaten many times to upstage the rest of the band.

‘Without you’ finds ‘Slap and Tickle’ nipping at its heels as Tilbrook re-engages his previously idle left hand. But then it’s back to a brace of new songs – two of the four tracks taken from the ‘Packet of Four’ maxi-EP that is on sale at the merchandise stand (along with a live recording of tonight’s show for those who don’t have trains to catch) and which represent the bands first new studio material in many years (one of the other tracks being a re-recording of the previously-played ‘Without you Here.’).

And as an exercise in ‘now here’s a few from our new album’, the joy is that the risk pays off.

Tommy is cleverly synched with a video backing track of the ‘Catford String Quartet’, and its characterization reflects a songwriting return-to-form as it captures the gritty reality that fans of Up The Junction so love.

And ‘Top of the Form’ continues the story-telling lyrical theme…with the Karaoke-style rolling set of words that are projected onto the back screen making sure that nobody misses a single line of this new urban poem.

But rather than unpicking every song in tonight’s set instead it’s perhaps better to focus on the moments – those times through the night when everything clicked into place.

Moments for instance when it became startlingly apparent that ‘Labeled With Love’ is the perfect football terrace song – if, that is, the most complex. And moments such as the point during that self-same song when a wagging finger leaves the accordion, points at the ‘no photos’ sign and then points accusingly at an i-phone wielding bootlegger, who is instantly put in his place as a result…

‘No photos or videos at the request of the band’ does seem to be working though…because for once most people are focusing on the band, not on a blurry reproduction of them on a tiny camera screen.

Moments also when the lovely video (shot it would appear in the Pelton Arms) for ‘Cradle to the Grave’ makes everyone grin, and moments like when ‘Up the Junction’ kicks in and it becomes obvious why it is that if anyone only knows one Squeeze song well, this is that song.

Nights like this reaffirm the ageless quality of perfect pop.

Squeeze are at the top of their game – they know what makes their fans tick – and as members of the band wander wirelessly through the crowds on the first floor balcony for their ‘Goodbye Girl’ finale it is abundantly clear that there is still an awful lot of love in the world for bands who not only have this sort of quality back catalogue, but know exactly how to use it.


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