Aged 85 and the silveriest of foxes, Burt Bacharach calls this the “You Have to be Kidding” tour. Hal David, seven years his senior and the lyricist on melodies that soundtracked the Mad Men era, died last year. Bacharach, the composer/arranger extraordinaire, has a book and a box set to promote. The business of show must go on.
Dapper as ever, he ambled out carefully to join an instrumental septet and his regular tag-team of singers, Donna Taylor, John Pagano and Josie James. Cue an immediate ovation. Linked by Bacharach’s genial anecdotes, the concert followed a serial medley format.
The hits came in batches, acting as memory joggers – musical madeleines – more than anything that held you in an especially magical present moment. While the likes of “Walk On By”, “Wishin’ and Hopin’” and “I Say a Little Prayer” are standards, meaning we expect to hear them sung by others, we still crave the definitive versions by Dionne, Dusty and Aretha. Their delicacy, yearning and tenderness only exist now in recordings.
Periodically, one of the singers would leave their stools to front a song in full. Hipsters turned on to Bacharach during his 1990s rehabilitation might have worried they had stumbled aboard a cruise ship or into a Las Vegas hotel. Pagano, in particular, was heavy on the histrionics. Taylor brought a hint of funk to the lesser-known “Waiting for Charlie (To Come Home)”. After an almost Satie-like intro from Bacharach, she also made “Close to You” among the more characterful renditions but it was hard for these vocalists to “own” this material.
Towards the end of the more than two-hour gig, he sang – lending his trembly testament to verses of “The Look of Love”, “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” and “Wives and Lovers”, the latter being a topic that the four-times married Bacharach knows plenty about. Most affectingly, “Alfie” was played solo at the piano, with an elder’s accumulated, and gently accusative, wisdom.
At the last, there was genuine warmth amid the luvvie bonhomie of “That’s What Friends Are For”, then the audience sang along to a reprise of “Raindrops”, an anthem for the grey hairs to keep smiling through.
Burt Bacharach plays in Bournemouth on July 5 and returns to the RFH on July 7