The Kennedy Center is a storied venue indeed. I was very excited to be going to such a historic venue, so when we arrived via shuttle bus, I was surprised that the building had an almost Soviet-era look. Adrienne remarked that it looked like it was built as part of a collective’s five year plan. The building was built in 1971, and it looks like it. The space, home to three separate performance spaces (Dear Evan Hansen was playing next door), had kind of an old mausoleum vibe, with threadbare red carpets and burgundy jacketed ushers. It reminded me of a very old school steak house.
The concert hall itself was very nice, holding about 2500 people, great sight lines, comfy seats, and good sound. We had both forgotten who the opening act was, so imagine our joy and surprise when Marshall Crenshaw wandered on stage! Playing a big hollow body Guild guitar, Marshall gave a masterclass in fine pop songwriting in his nine song-set. He opened with two of his strongest tunes, ‘There She Goes Again,’ and ‘Fantastic Planet Of Love,’ both showing his still very strong voice and top-notch guitar chops. “Live And Learn’ from his Jaggedland LP was a real standout and a song I wasn’t familiar with. I noticed he had his guitar tuned down at least a full step, which sounded a little weird but filled the sound and allowed him to cover all the vocal notes. We did a squee! When he played ‘Whenever You’re On My Mind’ (see our podcast tinyurl.com/marschcren) which is just a fantastic pop song, from the guitar riff to the melody to the great soaring chorus. After a story about how he wrote some of his early songs after two cups of coffee, ‘caffeine rock,’ He ended his short set with two songs from his first LP, ‘Cynical Girl’ and ‘Someday, Someway.’ Marshall was a welcome and wonderful treat. The crowd was attentive and appreciative. There are very few who can write, sing, and play like he does.
At 9 p.m. sharp, the seven person band that is presently Squeeze took the stage to raucous applause. This was billed as ‘The Difford and Tilbrook Songbook Tour 2019,’ and it did not disappoint. After straightening things out (like the sound mix) with ‘Footprints’ and ‘Big Beng’ they launched into ‘Hourglass,’ and this show was ON. The sound was good, although Glenn Tilbrook’s guitar was often too low in the mix. The rhythm section of Simon Hanson (drums, vocals) and Yolanda Charles (bass vocals) was astounding. Hanson is a solid as they come, and handled the Gilson Lavis busy-busy drum parts of old Squeeze with aplomb. Yolanda was a vision in a tailored suit and pencil skirt, just laying it down on her five string Fender Jazz bass. In her hand, the bass is unbelievably smooth, classy, and tasteful. Next up was Argybargy standout ‘Pulling Mussels (From The Shell), wherein the crowd erupted. Tilbrook and guitarist/vocalist/lyricist Chris Difford were really singing well, and Stephen Large was outstanding on keyboards and vocals. Tilbrook delivered a stinging solo on his battered Fender Telecaster.
About midway through the set, they did ‘Someone Else’s Heart’ from East Side Story, a great slow burner sung by Difford. Utility man/steel guitar/guitar/mandolin/vocal guy Melvin Duffy added some great atmospherics to this one. This was followed shortly by a rollicking ‘In Quintessence’ from the ESS LP. Difford took to the mic for an inspired version of ‘Cool For Cats,’ singing in a proto rap style reminiscent of Ian Dury (see our Ian Dury podcast (tinyurl.com/zubreasons). Tilbrook used a uke for a terrific version of ‘Cradle To The Grave’ on which the whole band sang. Next up was a surprisingly heavy version of ‘Slap And Tickle,’ with Stephen Large karate chopping his vintage Moog synth, and with Tilbrook adding a Hendrix-style guitar solo. It was astonishing. Squeeze hit hard on their classics to end the set, beginning with their R&B standout ‘Tempted’ (featuring a hilarious karaoke projection of the lyrics “‘Tempted’ in the style of Squeeze”).