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Monday, July 2, 2012

B-52's, Squeeze concert review: Los Angeles

Squeeze
A version of my review originally appeared at: soundcheck.ocregister.com.

All photos by Ida Miller.

To a casual observer, the inaugural tour pairing of the B-52’s and Squeeze might’ve seemed like an odd fit.
 
One band specializes in zany dance rock tunes about the cosmos, ancient history and unbridled sexuality. The other crafts sharp Beatlesque power pop and rock songs that are vivid glimpses into British working class life. Yet there are similarities. Both groups came to prominence during the nascent late 1970s New Wave era and enjoyed major success in America nearly a decade later.
 
They are also supporting excellent new live releases. The B-52’s With the Wild Crowd! CD and DVD were recorded last year in Athens, Ga. hometown; the visual element features a rare interview with all four members.
 
Meanwhile, Squeeze’s Live at the Fillmore (taken from a 2010 San Francisco gig and available on white vinyl) is chock full of deep album cuts. A long-awaited studio album is due out in the near future. Additionally, this past April, the B-52’s and Squeeze received their biggest exposure in recent memory. The former was house band on the TV Land Awards; the latter debuted at Coachella and received rave reviews. 
 
Saturday was a perfect summer night for a party and the B-52’s delivered with a spirited 70-minute show at the Greek Theatre.
 
the B-52's
Enthusiastic fans danced in the aisles and stood most of the time. Several ladies sported bright bouffant hairdos/wigs in homage to singers Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson’s original Seventies look.
 
Opening the 14-song set with “Eyes Wide Open” (the first of four selections from 2008’s fine reunion album Funplex), some ethereal electronic textures cast a spell. The vibe continued with the B-52’s alluring “Mesopotamia.” Schneider welcomed all the “Greeks and freaks.”  
 
Although Wilson appeared to be suffering from a cold, she still danced around plenty. Wilson and Pierson had no trouble nailing their trademark trills – especially on a frantic “Private Idaho,” the spacey “Planet Claire” and heavenly “Roam” (an ode to openness that surely resonated with the sizable gay and lesbian crowd contingent).
 
Keith Strickland’s surf guitar-inspired licks on the newish “Hot Corner” and “Too Much to Think About,” not to mention classics like “52 Girls” and the crazed concert closer “Rock Lobster,” defied the common misperception of the B-52’s as mere pop fluff. Other standouts included ace drummer Sterling Campbell’s snapping rhythms on “Whammy Kiss” and the rousing-as-always “Love Shack.” All told, a fun time was had by all.
 
Squeeze
Squeeze played to a still-arriving audience, but more than met the challenge. Co-singer/guitarist Glenn Tilbrook (pictured, left) was in a jovial mood and continually asked the crowd, “So, how do you like us now?”
 
The well-paced 75-minute performance kicked off with a drum machine-led “Take Me I’m Yours.” All awash in haunting synths, singer/guitarist Chris Difford’s low voice seamlessly juxtaposed with his musical partner’s sweeter register and Tilbrook ripped the first of many taut solos.
 
A backdrop screen projected an assortment of fascinating images, movie clips and animation throughout the 19-song set.
 
Insistent New Wave keyboards on “In Quintessence” was an early standout (the deep album track comes from 1981’s “East Side Story,” which Difford considers one of Squeeze’s best).
 
Three promising songs from that upcoming studio effort were debuted in L.A. and necessitated the use of sheet music stands. On the stark, orchestrated “Tommy,” Tilbrook sang Difford’s vivid lyrics about a lazy racist guy who eventually gets his comeuppance. A lively ska song contained the humorous line, “I stayed at home watching ‘Starsky & Hutch’.” Finally, the reflective mid-tempo, acoustic guitar-led “Honey Child” found Tilbrook lamenting, “we went from brilliant to worse/I got what I deserved.”
 
Concertgoers bopped along to the countrified “Melody Motel,” heightened by Stephen Large’s barrelhouse piano work. When Difford (pictured, top foreground) took the rare lead vocal on the zippy “Cool for Cats” and Tilbrook did another winning solo in the breakdown section, the crowd responded loudly.
 
From there, it was one memorable U.K. hit after another with “Up the Junction,” “Goodbye Girl,” “Annie Get Your Gun” and American hit “Hourglass,” prompting mass singalongs. Tilbrook added soulful grit on the latter and some extended call and response action on “Tempted” and “Black Coffee in Bed” were simply joyous. 
 

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