“Summer is over,” sang Glenn Tilbrook Saturday as British new wave act Squeeze went back to 1987’s Babylon and On album, opening their show at Chicago Theatre on the final night of August with “Footprints.”
Squeeze is about halfway through a U.S. tour that moves to Ireland and the United Kingdom in October, running through November.
“The Difford and Tilbrook Songbook” tour celebrates the legacy of one of the great British songwriting teams with the group is performing as a 7-piece on this tour, the vocals and guitar of Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook augmented by bass, pedal steel guitar, keyboards and a pair of percussionists.
Saturday night in Chicago, Tilbrook celebrated his 62nd birthday, serenaded in a singing of “Happy Birthday” first by a video featuring band and crew before the Chicago Theatre crowd itself finished the song.
“So we’re out on tour celebrating 45 years. By the way, it’s Glenn’s birthday tonight,” said Difford Saturday. “When we were putting together this tour, we had a list of songs we wanted to play,” he continued, setting up the group’s take on “King George Street.”
Pedal steel injected that performance with a sort of psychedelic whimsy, while accordion lent a bit of a zydeco feel to “Third Rail” shortly thereafter.
Difford handled the lead vocal on “Someone Else’s Heart” but it was Tilbrook that was the star on stage in Chicago. His vocals have lost little of their luster and his scorching guitar work was on display all night, most notably during cuts like “Hourglass” and “In Quintessence.”
“How you doing? We’re gonna have a time,” Tilbrook assured the crowd, heading into “In Quintessence.” The song provided some of the more rocking early fare Saturday. Powered by dueling keyboards set against Tilbrook’s incisive guitar, the group’s live take conjured up images of Steve Nieve’s finest moments alongside Elvis Costello.
Heavy percussion fueled “The Day I Get Home” while keys sparkled later as Tilbrook donned a ukulele during “Cradle to the Grave.”
“This is a song that was a hit for us in the United States forty years ago,” explained Difford Saturday at Chicago Theatre. “It’s partly inspired by Benny Hill though I don’t know why,” he continued, taking the lead vocal on “Cool for Cats.”
Tilbrook smiled and looked left at bassist Yolanda Charles Saturday during the performance, turning again and facing the group’s pair of percussionists during the new wave cut driven by an almost disco sounding bassline.
It was the group’s biggest American cuts that brought the crowd to its feet Saturday. “Pulling Mussels From a Shell” accomplished it early as did a largely acoustic version of “Tempted,” which saw Tilbrook ably handle the original Paul Carrack vocal later.
While the backing vocals to “Black Coffee In Bed” were tackled on record by Paul Young and Elvis Costello, it took all seven members of the group to recreate them on stage Saturday night during a decidedly upbeat, faster take on the song which revealed the group’s punk influences.
“I placed an ad in 1973… This man was the only person to answer it,” he reminisced, singing the praises of lyricist and songwriting partner Chris Difford, comparing him to artists like Jimmy Page and Ritchie Blackmore who didn’t answer it. “On the guitar… what a lyricist, what a man – Mr. Chris Difford!”
Scottish singer songwriter KT Tunstall opened the show Saturday with an immensely rewarding forty-five minute solo acoustic set at Chicago Theatre.
“Chicago, you’ve provided me many, many great memories,” said Tunstall Saturday during a set that opened with “Little Red Thread.”
Tunstall acted as her own backing band, firing percussion elements with her feet during “Little Red Thread,” and creating a percussion track which she’d loop and play along to later during “Other Side of the World.”
“Now this next song goes out to any of you who’ve made the questionable life decision of falling in love with someone who doesn’t live in the same city as you,” said the singer, describing the long distance relationship between Scotland and Chicago that informs “Other Side of the World.” “It didn’t last, guys,” explained the singer, setting the record straight for a crowd that instinctively cheered upon hearing the word Chicago. “Date local,” she advised with a chuckle.
The affable Tunstall has no shortage of great stories on stage. One of Saturday’s best involved her detailed recall of the parking lot goings on during the final Grateful Dead show at Chicago’s Soldier Field, which she attended in July of 1995.
Tunstall went on to tell the story behind her breakout 2005 hit “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree.”
Prior to the release of her debut album Eye to the Telescope, it was a TV performance of the song on UK music show Later… with Jools Holland which Tunstall widely credits for exposing the track before it was a recorded or radio hit. While he hasn’t performed with the band regularly since about 1990, show host Holland was an original member of Squeeze upon its formation in 1974.
“Basically this song is Squeeze’s love child and they’re responsible for my entire career!” joked Tunstall on stage Saturday at Chicago Theatre.