An intriguing contrast was presented by the Greek Theater’s double bill of reunited new wave originators Squeeze and post-modern pop rockers Fountains of Wayne: The vets made it look difficult, the youngsters played it casual. Both work from the same pop blueprint, delving into deft wordplay and literate twists against a 1960s-based pop rock background. Songs are littered with clever twists and everyman characters, yet where FoW singer Chris Collingwood played the frontman as a storyteller, Squeeze’s Glen Tilbrook took an actorly stance, building a distance between the words and their recitation.
Tilbrook, his composing partner and co-leader Chris Difford and the band’s bassist from its peak artistic period, John Bentley, are giving Squeeze its first go-round in eight years, owing in part to a U.K. compilation issued in the spring that has a Sept. 3 release in the U.S.
Tilbrook is in command and Difford adopts the role of rigid silent partner; their 90-minute effort appeared laborious yet precise, suggesting the execution of their ambitious craftsmanship was a tough undertaking worthy of intense concentration and calculation. Nowhere was there the joyous sense of Squeeze concerts in the late ’70s or mid-’80s when the keyboardists, Jools Holland and, later on, Paul Carrack, were able to spell Tillbrook and even lend some humor to the evening.
This edition of Squeeze is committed to the execution of the material and little else, spiking any concern they might have for pacing or stylistic redundancy in consecutive songs. Momentum generated by the uptempo numbers was rarely sustained for long.
No longer keen on attempting to charm their way into the hearts of listeners, Tilbrook and Difford deliver assured, if not profound, renditions of masterworks. There’s no denying the lasting qualities of the songbook and even a sharp pop band like Fountains of Wayne would sell a soul or two to have songs on par with “Take Me, I’m Yours,” “Goodbye Girl,” “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)” and “Annie Get Your Gun.” The tracks don’t have the chart history of their contemporaries such as the Police or the cult cache of XTC, but their oeuvre is as noteworthy.
Fountains of Wayne, which has the same number of top 30 singles in the U.S. (one) as Squeeze, has yet to create the quirky followup to “Stacy’s Mom,” choosing instead to sow a more literate field on their latest disc “Traffic and Weather” (Virgin). While the album has stalled commercially, new material such as the “The Hotel Majestic” and “Someone to Love” has enchanting appeal even if it doesn’t quite approach the glory of “Radiation Vibe,” which, as usual, was performed radiantly.
The Fountains, whose 50 minutes onstage were peppered with choice between-song banter, are in a boat not dissimilar to the one Squeeze is in, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing: It’s all about the body of work and just a single hit. The audience, which reacted tepidly to both bands, made it clear no one was coming out to hear either band’s biggest, just the best.