Live Music + Gig Reviews

Burt Bacharach @ Royal Festival Hall, London

7 July 2013

Burt Bacharach

Burt Bacharach

If – and it’s a big if – Burt Bacharach has a failing, it is that he simply wrote too many hits. This actually poses major programming problems because, with it only being possible to squeeze a quarter of his most iconic songs into two hours, the risks of leaving audience members disappointed at their own favourites being omitted are all too real.

Given the difficulty, this concert, which ended a 13-date tour, covered sufficient ground without feeling too glib by introducing medleys of his works alongside full-length performances of both key classics and some newer and lesser-known songs.

It still felt disconcerting, however, to whip through so many hits that he had written with lyricist Hal David, who died last year. This is because presenting just the highlights of songs such as Walk On By, This Guy’s In Love With You and (There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me stifles the emotions that are rendered through their natural arcs. In addition, almost all of them were split between the evening’s three principal singers when so many thrive on presenting one individual’s feelings in a situation. This said, all of the soloists were strong, the vocal harmonies they brought to the pieces were pleasing, with some such as Planes And Boats And Trains possessing them in the first place.

Although the pace slowed once the first medley finished, the opportunity to delve deeper inside certain songs by hearing them uncut was highly welcome. Josie James gave a soul-searching performance of Anyone Who Had A Heart, made all the more so by the iconic line ‘What am I to do?’ being delivered with a glistening sense of understatement. John Pagano performed I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself with panache before embarking on I Still Have That Other Girl, one of the songs that Bacharach wrote with Elvis Costello for the Painted From Memory album. The inclusion of newer songs also prevented this concert from feeling like a reactionary cliché and, as Bacharach pointed out, when they gave this same concert at the Royal Festival Hall a week and a half ago, they performed God Give Me Strength from the album instead. Another lesser-known piece, Waiting For Charlie (To Come Home), written with lyricist Bob Hilliard, was sung by Donna Taylor with immense passion.

On stage Bacharach exuded warmth and humility. He congratulated the British audience on their weather and Andy Murray’s victory that day, and never seemed overly precious about his music. He joked about how both Steve McQueen’s and his own career had strangely survived The Blob (the name of both the film and the tune he wrote for it), and freely shared his experiences as a struggling up-and-coming writer all those decades ago. When he said that he was one of the few American writers ever to have had a song sung by The Beatles (Baby It’s You) he was not boasting, but rather revealing just how honoured he still felt. He similarly betrayed genuine fatherly pride at seeing his own son playing the keyboard for Make It Easy On Yourself.

There were also medleys of Bacharach’s early hits and film compositions, but some of the most moving moments came when he took to the microphone himself. At 85 his voice is understandably reasonable rather than outstanding, but his sheer ability to phrase and perform his songs, which derives from an unparalleled understanding of their meaning, transcends any imperfections. Particularly heart and show stealing was The Look Of Love, which saw his own solos interspersed with Dennis Wilson’s equally riveting ones on the saxophone, and an ending in which all of the soloists suddenly joined the throng.

The evening concluded with an audience sing-along of Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head, but the night had been sealed before this when Bacharach explained just why he kept on performing. He said that when he saw the look of joy on someone’s face, and knew it was in his power to bring that about, he simply could not find any reason to stop. It seems safe to say that no-one present this evening would have been able to volunteer one either.

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Burt Bacharach @ Royal Festival Hall, London