Roadshows

Baby, it's him
In person, Burt Bacharach seems a little smaller than he does when you see him on television or in old photos standing next to ex-wife Angie Dickinson or Dionne Warwick. His arms are twig-thin, and his face is a little more gaunt than it was back when he was pop's leading man; and when he wears jeans and running shoes and a T-shirt (on this night it was an Austin Powers freebie), he seems a bit more...mortal than his myth would seem to allow. Even his handshake is slight, like a whisper. Then again, when you are as big as Bacharach--when you have contributed so much to pop music almost since its inception, when you created so much of the language we now take for granted--even the smallest things seem enormous.

Nothing seemed grander than the intimate performance Bacharach gave in early September for a few family members, some friends and business associates, and a handful of fortunate journalists. Deep in the bowels of a rehearsal space on Sunset and Vine in Hollywood, Bacharach led a group of musicians through a repertoire of songs so timeless, so affecting, so absolutely perfect; every piece they performed that night--and there were dozens, spanning 40 years--was a hit, filled with melodies and lyrics you've memorized without even trying.

To recite the list of songs written by Bacharach and old partner Hal David and to catalog the roster of artists who have covered them are to recount the history of modern pop music. Those who are fool enough to speak of a Bacharach renaissance on the heels of Austin Powers, My Best Friend's Wedding, a John Zorn-produced tribute album that's no homage, a McCoy Tyner homage that's more water than wine, a couple of commercials using his music, and dozens of magazine articles trumpeting his comeback miss the point. Look, you can't come back from here. His songs are as immortal as those of Cole Porter and George and Ira Gershwin. Bacharach gave Hal David's words--his wonderful words, these three-dimensional love songs that sought the middle ground between sadness and satisfaction--a heartbeat.

There was once a time when Dionne Warwick was the principal interpreter of Bacharach and David's music; that was until they came to blows over a breach-of-contract lawsuit long since forgotten. Warwick, of course, floundered without Bacharach--couldn't her psychic friends see it coming?--but every now and then, he takes her out and rescues her from eternal damnation. Still, don't think of this as an evening for old friendships and ancient memories; consider it a rare opportunity to hear the man who wrote songs yesterday to make today possible.

--Robert Wilonsky

Burt Bacharach and Dionne Warwick perform Nov. 9 at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center.

 
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