Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford of the band Squeeze brought their duo tour to the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank on Monday, in the first of several area appearances. And as one might expect from two such clever songwriters, there were lots of clever twists, from the tour subtitle (“The At Odds Couple”) to the stage set (made to look like a couple of bedrooms, complete with actual beds) and segments, in each of the show’s two sets, in which the longtime musical partners took questions from the audience.
“I’ve got two questions,” said one audience member, who was pretty clever himself. “What does Argybargy mean? And can you play all the songs on it?”
They did play some songs from that 1980 album — arguably their best — including “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell),” “Another Nail in My Heart” and “If I Didn’t Love You,” the last song in particular showcasing the great, unique vocal blend between Tilbrook’s airy soul and Difford’s reedy rumble. But there was plenty of space for more obscure material, too, and both men played solo, with highlights including Difford’s droll “Fat As a Fiddle” (“I always played the boy in goal/Cross country runs became a stroll”) and Tilbrook’s bluesy “Chat Line Larry.”
In response to a request, during one of the Q&A segments, that they play a cover, they responded with “Harper Valley PTA” — one of four covers recorded as bonus tracks for Squeeze’s new album, Cradle to the Grave.
Their basic instrumental format was Difford on acoustic guitar and Tilbrook on electric guitar, though there were some variations: Tilbrook played ukulele on “Cowboys Are My Weakness,” for instance, and electric piano on “Tempted” and a few other songs. They played with enthusiasm throughout the evening, and seemed to get a kick out of the Q&A sessions, even when being asked questions they’ve probably been asked hundreds of times before.
I have only one criticism with the show — one aspect of it where I thought they took their cleverness too far. On many numbers throughout the evening, they showed quirky videos on a big screen, and frankly, I found it distracting — partially because the screen was right behind them and not on the side, so you couldn’t really look away.
I loved hearing “Up the Junction,” for instance, but I really didn’t need to see a cartoonish video of a mock-Beatles group called The Hooples behind them, as they played it. And I didn’t certainly didn’t need to see videos of fruits and vegetables during “Tempted,” presumably inspired by the line, “Tempted by the fruit of another.”
It’s possible, of course, for videos to effectively enhance live music. But in these cases, the videos were so weakly connected to the songs that they actually robbed the music of some of its power. (For an idea of what I mean, check out the videos below.)
Difford and Tilbrook will perform at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown at 8 p.m. Dec. 14 (visit mayoarts.org) and 8 p.m. Dec. 17-18 at the PlayStation Theater in New York.
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