Glenn Tilbrook practically skipped onto the tiny red-curtained Viper Room stage in Los Angeles, California. Dressed in a simple red and white T-shirt and jeans and carrying an acoustic guitar, Tilbrook dove heartily into a performance that showcased the depth and breadth of a two-decade-plus career with Squeeze as well as his own solo foray. Despite a rather nasty flu that caused Tilbrook to cough in between songs and sweat more than is customary at your average unplugged rock show, he joked, danced and emoted his way through a veritable treasure trove of hits.
Tilbrook mostly performed songs from various points in Squeeze’s recorded history rather than his own solo material. The audience was barely warmed up before he began a passionate and particularly poignant version of the pop ballad “Up the Junction” from 1979’s Cool for Cats. This song is one of Squeeze’s more lyrically sound pieces, a song that belied the young age of its creators, with lyrics like: “I worked eleven hours / And bought the girl some flowers / She said she’d seen a doctor / And nothing now could stop her.” and “Alone here in the kitchen / I feel there’s something missing / I’d beg for some forgiveness / But begging’s not my business / And she won’t write a letter / Although I always tell her / And so it’s my assumption / I’m really up the junction.”
After a joyous rendering of the bouncy pop fun of “Piccadilly” from 1981’s East Side Story, during which he insisted on audience participation, Tilbrook launched into a hilarious rant about VH1 and Squeeze’s place in its history. “. . . First we were on VH1. Now it’s VH1 Classic . . . What’s next? VH1 Are You Still Alive?” Tilbrook went on to discuss Squeeze’s wariness, at first, of the music video form and how uncomfortable they were when they made the video for their 1982 hit “Black Coffee in Bed”. He commented about a Billy Squier video he saw, just a few days earlier, for “Rock Me Tonite”, and commiserated with how difficult it was to make music videos in the 1980s that weren’t campy or silly. Tilbrook’s unexpectedly literal imitation of Squier in that video was priceless.
Although he was under the weather, Tilbrook’s vocals were as beautiful as ever. There was the occasional croak, but those moments were overshadowed by his energy, humor and passion for the music, his music. During the blue-eyed soul of “This Is Where You Ain’t” from his 2001 solo album, The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook, his voice was clearly hoarse, but that somehow only added to the emotion of the song. In fact, it seemed he found a way to use the hoarseness of his voice to carry the audience to another level of emotional connection to his work throughout the night.
To say the mostly middle-aged, mostly male crowd was appreciative of Tilbrook’s efforts would be a huge understatement. Through their eyes, the true impact of Squeeze’s music could be seen and felt. Of course there were younger fans in attendance: a trio of young men, no more then 25, right up front and a young woman with pink hair who knew every word to every song, but it was clear that the bulk of the audience grew up with Squeeze. This was evidenced by the fact that there was never silence in between songs or even your usual hoots and hollers. There were song requests—and not just a song or two or the same songs—the requests were many and varied. During each break a different fan had a different song they wanted: “Tempted”, “Is That Love?”, “Goodbye Girl”, to name just a few.
Tilbrook sang songs from many different albums, though mostly from Squeeze’s first four studio releases. However, he did perform a few songs from 1987’s Babylon and On—the lovely melodic ballad “Tough Love”, the up-tempo pop song “Footprints” and the hit “Hourglass”, which was performed with much enthusiasm and featured more audience participation in the form of hand claps during the break in the song.
Highlights of the evening, and there were many, included a slowed down, sexy, almost bluesy version of that ode to masturbation “Touching Me, Touching You” from Cool for Cats, which Tilbrook happily introduced: “I still identify with it now!” The utterly gorgeous mid-tempo pop of “Is That Love” from East Side Story and the distinctively English, Beatles-esque “Slightly Drunk”, also from Cool for Cats, were beautifully executed. During “Take Me I’m Yours”, from Squeeze’s debut album, U.K. Squeeze, Tilbrook demonstrated an impressive fluency on the guitar, and the soulful pop of “Tempted”, the song that broke Squeeze in the United States in 1981, whipped the audience into an excited frenzy.
For an encore, Tilbrook performed the timeless “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)” and “Another Nail in My Heart” from Argybargy. And after the last lyric was sung and the last note sounded, a woman behind me said, “Wow! And that’s what he’s like when he’s sick.” Indeed.