Marred by amateurism, British pop-rockers Squeeze turned a less than gripping performance Friday evening in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Problems arose in several categories. The show was overlit and underamplified. The sound in the Rutgers "Barn," however, was both muddy and soft. Only drummer Gilson Lavis came through clearly, which brings me to the next problem: Squeeze should shop for a new drummer. Lavis's exceedingly repetitive style lacks the expression and wit found among the better pop drummers. Quite simply, he holds the band back.
In the studio, Squeeze displays clever interplay of keyboards and guitars. On stage, the guitars were lifeless and the keyboards — played by newcomer Paul Carrack, who replaces Jools Holland — were more filler than spice. It appeared that Squeeze was more concerned with the overall charm of their set than with virtuosity. Unfortunately, the two go hand-in-hand.
Perhaps a more thoughtful selection of songs would have helped. Though the band has released three albums, and has a fourth on the way, a disproportionate amount of Argybargy (1980) crowded out many of their stronger tunes. What's more, Chris Difford, whose croaking, cockney vocals flavor much of Cool For Cats (1979), had few opportunities to sing due to the predominance of material sung by Glenn Tilbrook.
Granted, technical difficulties can be blamed for much of the show's failure. Tilbrook had to call and wave for the spotlight on several occasions. Evidently the lighting crew was experimenting with indirect techniques. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. Other problems arose when Tilbrook's guitar became unplugged and, finally, when the lights completely failed. With surprising cheer, Squeeze played the remaining songs of their 50 minute set in total darkness.
After a considerable delay, the lights were again operable, and the energized crowd braced for the self-proclaimed king: Elvis Costello. In a show lasting almost 90 minutes, Elvis played over 30 songs, and was magnificent.
Accompanied by pianist Steve Nieve, Costello began the evening with the delicate song "Shot With His Own Gun" from his new album Trust. Then, joined by bassist Bruce Thomas and drummer Pete Thomas, Costello launched "Accidents Will Happen" to an enormous ovation. With almost all of his songs certifiable hits, the bespectacled Britisher could do no wrong. The show highlighted his latest album. Costello integrated his new songs with his more established compositions, at once demonstrating their continuity with his other work as well as accenting their fresh appeal. Indeed, Trust captures a superb performance by Costello's band The Attractions.
Mixing sensitive ballads such as "Alison" and "Clowntime Is Over" with powerhouses like "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding," Costello was overwhelming but not overbearing.
Two surprises occurred late in the show. First, a spoonful of Stevie Wonder's "Master Blaster (Jammin')" surfaced in the middle of "Watching The Detectives." Then, during the first encore, Glenn Tilbrook joined Costello for "From A Whisper To A Scream."
Although hampered by the horrendous sound system, Costello and The Attractions turned a marvelous, slick performance.