my squeeze weekend
an epic in four parts
by tim dunleavy

Well, here it is, Monday night going into Tuesday morning... my first chance to sit down and think about my INCREDIBLE weekend, capped by seeing Squeeze perform three times in the span of thirty hours! (Not to mention spending two days at the Fleadh... well, okay, a day and a half.) And now I've got the Keswick show just a few hours away...

Since this is a *looooong* story, I've decided to break it into four different parts:
    I. Squeeze at the Fleadh
    II. Hard Rock Live Recap
    III. A Night at the Mercury Lounge
    IV. The Rest of the Fleadh

I. SQUEEZE AT THE FLEADH
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I didn't bring a notepad to the shows to write down setlists; I knew it would be a while before I could get to a computer, and figured someone would beat me to it. It turned out I was right about Hard Rock Live and Mercury Lounge, wrong about the Fleadh. I can't remember the exact setlist for the Fleadh, but what surprised me about it was that there was NO material from Ridiculous (although there was plenty of ridiculous material!). Instead of the Electric Trains-Third Rail- Footprints/Hourglass intro they've been doing the rest of the tour, they opened with Footprints/Hourglass, then came back to Third Rail as their fourth or fifth song. (Later I was in the HMV Records tent and I saw a woman pick up a copy of Ridiculous, read the back and, not recognizing any song titles, put it back. Shame... I can understand why they cut the songs while playing to a few thousand people, but I think Electric Trains and Walk Away could have gone over well. By the way, HMV had a good supply of Squeeze CDs, including three copies of "Six of One.")

This was a hits-heavy set, designed to get the crowd moving; it sure did that! Glenn spent a good portion of the set pumping up the crowd-- walking downstage for a guitar solo, turning his microphone toward the audience for singalong segments. (I wonder why he didn't do those mic tricks at Hard Rock Live... it would have been a perfect place to do it.) Chris even stepped aside and let Hilaire take center stage during his bass solo on Take Me I'm Yours. The audience reacted just as the band had hoped; the crowd began tossing beach balls around. Early in the set a beach ball landed on the stage near Hilaire, and he gave it a soccer-kick back into the audience. Less than two minutes later, another beach ball came in-- and hit poor Hilaire on the head!! He was truly startled-- I think it was the one moment in the show where he wasn't smiling!-- but he quickly regained his composure, and didn't miss a note. (Is Hilaire the happiest musician ever? I mean, Keith was great, but Keith gave the impression that he was working at it-- with Hilaire it seems effortless. Now if Hilaire would just SING INTO THE MICROPHONE instead of looking away at his fretboard.... sigh....)

Coming after the gorgeous songs of the Irish ballad singer Maura O'Connell, Squeeze transformed the Fleadh into the festival it should have been all along. (But why didn't Maura do her version of Paul Carrack's "Bad News At The Best Of Times"? Would have been the perfect time for it.)

Here's the setlist, as best I remember it (the show lasted about 45 minutes):

1. Footprints/Hourglass
2. Cool For Cats
3. Third Rail
4. Domino
5. It's Over
6. Bitter Wind
7. Take Me I'm Yours
8. Tempted
9. Annie Get Your Gun
10. Black Coffee In Bed  (with band introductions)

This setlist is probably about 90% right; the first four songs are definite, as are the last four. I have a feeling they might have done Melody Motel after It's Over, but these shows are all blending together. My apologies.

Later in the night I stood at the edge of the stage in one of the Fleadh tents with a woman named Karen, a fellow folkie and die-hard Nanci Griffith fan. When Nanci finished at around 10pm, I told Karen that I was leaving to see Squeeze again; she was instantly jealous. "They were *awesome* today!" she said. How right she was....

II. HARD ROCK LIVE RECAP
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Can't add much to what others have said about this show, except to repeat that the set was truly terrific. The weather, on the other hand...

I got to the studio around 7:30pm and was fifth in line for general admission. I mentioned to the others that I hoped there would be more people in the audience than on the stage! We had been told to line up at 7:45 and that doors would open at 8:15; however, at 7:35 we were told that Ben Folds Five had just started. I knew we were in for a long, wet night. Still, we perservered; and at around 9:15 we finally got inside. (Strange thing-- Bob and Doris, who were right behind me the whole time, suddenly turned around and waved goodbye just as I was about to get in. Where are you? Did you get in some other way? What's the story?)

The following night at the Mercury I heard someone in line behind me (I think it was Brian) say that he thought the band gave a good performance at Hard Rock Live but that the audience was unresponsive. Well, you sure weren't in *my* section of the audience! Plenty of dancing and merriment. What a joy it was to look around and see new friends like Drew, Joy and Michelle doing just what I was doing-- making a happy fool of myself while singing along with the chorus of Third Rail!

Six songs into the set, during To Be A Dad, I retrieved my soggy baseball cap from my pocket and put it on. I figured it would stand out on the air-- it would sure look better onscreen than my bald spot!! So if you're watching the show, look for the white baseball cap on Chris Holland's side of the stage with "88.5" emblazoned on it. (That's the dial position of my favorite radio station, WXPN Philadelphia-- it'll make my friends who work at the station happy for the free publicity!)

Last year I went to the same studio to see a taping of PBS' "Sessions at West 54th" with Richard Thompson and Nanci Griffith; each artist played at least 45 minutes, yet their work was cut down to 28 minutes (including interview segments). If what I've read is true, and Hard Rock Live is keeping its current format (a one hour show with half an hour for each artist), then the 50-minute concert we saw will be cut to around twenty minutes on the air. Given that, I thought it strange that Chris D.'s only solo vocal was Fingertips; given that it's a loooooong ballad, there's a good chance it'll be cut from the final show. They should have done Cool For Cats instead to give Chris some airtime. (In fact, given the "exciting live concert" vibe VH1 is shooting for, there's a chance that the other ballads-- To Be A Dad and Walk Away-- will be cut also.) Just my opinion.

Glad I got to see the unedited version.

III. A NIGHT AT THE MERCURY LOUNGE
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Man, was this place *tiny*! It holds around two hundred. There's no stage door; the band had to be led in from the back through the audience, and it was truly a tight SQUEEZE (sorry). Glenn's remarks were a lot less formal than at TV show or at the stadium-- he must have realized he was amongst friends.

I should mention that Hilaire isn't the only member who seems happy to be there-- Chris and Glenn were very pleased to see such an outpouring. Glenn is emerging more than ever as a guitar hero; isn't his guitar version of the Hourglass saxophone just *perfect*? It's the familiar notes, but the tone is different enough to startle you each time. Meanwhile Chris H. and Ash seemed to be working very hard at keeping everything together, and doing an excellent job.

And has anyone mentioned the splendid vocal contributions of "our own" Ms. Julia Brown during Black Coffee in Bed? Glenn *really* wasn't expecting those notes!! By the way, if Chris ever decides to start singing Striking Matches again, they should give Julia a call to do the female vocal part!

Overall, I really like this version of Squeeze. Seeing them do a full-length concert in a small club was thrilling. And yet... I feel they haven't peaked. This version of the band reminds me of the band that Springsteen toured with after the breakup of the E Street Band. I saw that band play twice, and thought they played wonderfully, yet I never felt they were about to break loose and play whatever they felt like (as I felt the one time I saw the E Street Band). With the Carrack/Thomas and Jools/Gilson lineups of Squeeze, I had the feeling that Squeeze could turn on a dime and play any song in any style. I don't have that feeling yet with the latest version of Squeeze, but I know that's because this is a young band with only a few dozen songs in their repertoire. This band has the potential to be just as good as the previous lineups; they certainly have three incredibly talented new members who can take them anywhere. They give me a lot to be hopeful for.

And I can hardly wait to see them all at the Keswick!

IV. THE REST OF THE FLEADH
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The gates of the Fleadh at Randall's Island opened Saturday at 11am, and at 11:30 a torrential thunderstorm began. The storm lasted for over two hours. By the time it was over the festival grounds had become a sea of mud that made walking a straight line virtually impossible. At one point I came across a pair of women's sandals that had been abandoned in the mud by their owner! And I really can't blame their owner for giving up. (I should have given up on my shoes-- my brown Rockports, my favorite and most comfortable pair of shoes, were ruined by the mud only seven months after I bought them. Aaaaughh!)

Quick summaries of the bands I got to see:

SATURDAY:
Great Big Sea: good party band-- walks the thin line between musical proficiency and drunken chaos.
Clancy, O'Connell & Clancy-- keeps the wonderful Clancy Brothers tradition alive; Liam Clancy's son is an excellent musician too.
Maura O'Connell-- a longtime favorite of mine with the voice of an angel. Great to hear her sing Summerfly-- one I actually performed at a coffeehouse a few years ago!
Tommy Makem-- a man who makes me proud to be Irish. Inspirational. (But why didn't he reunite onstage with Liam Clancy? Talk about a missed opportunity!)
Richard Thompson-- my favorite male solo artist in the world. A guitarist, singer and songwriter like no other. The world's greatest musician. In other words, I liked it! Seventeenth time I've seen him perform in ten years, and he never ceases to amaze me.
Jeb Loy Nichols-- great voice, good songs, captivating stage presence.
John Fahey-- the WORST stage performance I've ever seen from a professional musician. His days as a guitar pioneer are long gone; he sat on a folding chair and played an aimless medley for 45 minutes. (No, I didn't see it all!) And he didn't care that the audience left to eat dinner; he's truly in his own world, and he left us all shaking our heads. (The only song I recognized was Oh Holy Night. Why was he playing a Christmas carol in the middle of June?!)
Loudon Wainwright III-- not just an insightful writer, but absolutely hilarious. The crew had already set up a drum kit and percussion kit for Nanci Griffith's set; Loudon walked onstage and said, "TWO drum kits? Well, for my first song I'd like to do In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida."
Nanci Griffith-- my favorite female singer in the world. (Seeing her, plus Richard Thompson, plus Squeeze in the same day... well, it's 48 hours later and I haven't calmed down yet!) I was in the front row (as I had been for Loudon), and seeing her up close was thrilling. Plus I got *serious* eye contact... <sigh>. (I think she liked that "88.5 WXPN" cap of mine-- she's done a lot of appearances on that station.)

SUNDAY:
Capercaillie: great band that mixes electronica with traditional Scottish and Irish music. Quite thrilling.
Frances Black: good singer, but she'll forever be known as just Mary Black's sister. Not bad, just not transcendent. (Good version of Champagne Supernova, though.)
Wilco: great, tight band. Not a false move in the whole set.
Los Lobos: I used to be a huge fan, but they'e turned into too much of a jam band. Good songs, but on the whole, too boring.
Joe Ely: exciting performer with some great songs. Really knows how to work a crowd, and can switch easily between tex-mex ballads and hard rockers.

By that time it was 6pm, and thanks to the Mercury Lounge show I was exhausted. I decided to stay one more hour to see the brilliant fiddler Eileen Ivers, but when they wheeled out a Farfisa organ I realized there may have been a schedule change! (Eileen can get people dancing, but not to that Farfisa beat....) Sure enough, she had switched slots with Yo La Tengo. I decided to skip the rest of the show (missing great artists like Patti Smith, Tracy Chapman, X and Indigo Girls) and leave New York. I was back in Philadelphia by 10pm.

An exhausting, thrilling weekend... it would have been good even without Squeeze, but Squeeze made it stupendous.


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