The inimitable, erudite, and clever Englishmen of Squeeze captivated a sold-out audience at Wolf Trap in a recent show that was big on hits but also contained a few rarely performed gems.
Squeeze along were a tremendous draw, but they shared the stage with The Psychedelic Furs, another British band, for a marvelous evening of quite intelligent pop music.
At The Filene Center at Wolf Trap on Sept. 14, the combined bill filled the venue with a crowd eager to revisit the chart hits of the ’80s that they loved but also to find inspiration, solace, and intellectual nourishment from two storied bands. You see, Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford of Squeeze and the brothers Richard and Tim Butler are no ordinary songwriters. On the Squeeze side, Tilbrook and Difford remarkably capture the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of growing up, parrying with the opposite sex, falling in love, and muddling through a sometimes less than transparent life. On The Psychedelic Furs side, the Butler brothers brilliantly snark and satire, but they also wistfully long for connection, understanding, and love.
Together, the two bands were on the vanguard of the Second British Invasion in the ’80s, exposing American youth to different sartorial styles and elevating the lyrical depth of a typical Top 40 tune.
For Squeeze, perhaps there is no song more representative of their smart wordplay and memorable melodies than “Black Coffee in Bed,” performed toward the end of the show at Wolf Trap. The song paints a picture of lost love and regrets, and it does so through the metaphor of “a stain on my notebook” left by an absent coffee cup. It’s full of pain and longing but it also is snappy and persistent. It is little wonder the song remains a staple on FM radio’s hits stations.
Watch the official music video for “Black Coffee in Bed” by Squeeze on YouTube:
Squeeze’s set, which ended the night, also included other well-known compositions from Tilbrook and Difford: “Pulling Mussels (from the Shell),” “Tempted,” “Cool for Cats,” and more. They opened the show with the great “Take Me I’m Yours” from their self-titled debut album (1978) and soon presented the rarely performed “Here Comes That Feeling,” a hidden gem from Argybargy (1980), a giant of an album that produced “Pulling Mussels” and “Another Nail in My Heart,” the latter of which Squeeze also played in the first half of the show.
One of the things that the audience always appreciates about Chris and Glenn is that they always show up dressed for the occasion, and the two men were nothing less than dapper at Wolf Trap this month. They were met in style by two of their great players — Stephen Large on keyboards and Simon Hanson on drums. Both men have been part of the Squeeze band since 2007, and their distinctive personalities have become a great part of the show. Large appeared gregarious and fastidious, grounded and jovial. Hanson with his punk mohawk, often growled and scowled through the show but his larger than life presence also imparted kindness and wit. He was as much a perfectionist as the rest of the band, and he took care to make sure that everything from his station was just right.
Squeeze have recorded several new studio albums in the past 13 years, but as I recall, the band performed nothing newer than 1987 with Babylon and On’s “Hourglass.”
By contrast, The Psychedelic Furs released Made of Rain, their first studio album in almost 30 years, in 2020, and at Wolf Trap, Richard Butler and company presented four numbers from it across a 15-song setlist. It is good that they do so, as it is a strong album that warrants the attention.
Early in the show, The Psychedelic Furs picked up “You’ll Be Mine” and “Wrong Train” from the new album, and they steadily moved into their best-known songs as the set progressed. The band soon summoned “President Gas,” “The Ghost in You,” and of course “Pretty in Pink,” the classic tune that lent its title to a Gen X movie that still looms large.
When it comes to making the Top 40 chart a smarter place, The Psychedelic Furs standout for their biggest USA hit, “Heartbreak Beat,” the perfectly rendered song of sorrow that stops you in your tracks. The Psychedelic Furs closed their set with the timeless tune.
Watch the official music video for “Heartbreak Beat” by The Psychedelic Furs on YouTube:
In performance, The Psychedelic Fur as always were extremely watchable. Richard threw open his arms wide and expressed himself through his hands as he swooped into each song with his distinctive voice. Tim was cool as ever, moving about the stage with bass in hand and shades on his face. Longtime band member Mars Williams was a revelation on sax, an instrument that is so key to so many of The Furs songs relying on those jazzy overtones. (I’m disappointed not to have a good photo of Mars here for you but now I have a goal for next time.) Amanda Kramer, who has been with The Furs for more than 20 years, is an excellent keyboardist, and she was so proud and pleased to be on stage that she was beaming almost as much as Richard. And relatively new drummer Zachary Alford was a wonderful addition to the group, capturing each song’s atmosphere in precise rhythm.
The pairing of Squeeze and The Psychedelic Furs really worked, because they both were forged in the same musical times, but their approach to their craft was different enough to offer some variety to the capacity crowd — Squeeze with their mod power pop musings and The Psychedelic Furs with their biting neo-psychedelia. They were again two intelligent (and danceable) pop bands that made the Top 40 a smarter place to be with their contributions to it.
Here are some photos of Squeeze performing at Wolf Trap on Sept. 14, 2023. All pictures by Mickey McCarter.
Here are some photos of The Psychedelic Furs performing at Wolf Trap on Sept. 14, 2023. All pictures by Mickey McCarter.