NEW YORK -- For all his sugar-sweet melodies recalling times long
gone, it's not hard to see a little Burt Bacharach in the sound of a lot of pop
In fact, it's clear that there's a whole career's worth of that famous Bacharach
style nestled deep within the talents of pianoman Ben Folds.
The pop star and his band Ben Folds Five, who in some ways come off as the
rock offspring of the legendary pianoman/songwriter, joined stars including
Elvis Costello, Dionne Warwick, Chrissie Hynde and Sheryl Crow in paying
tribute to Bacharach on Wednesday night at the Hammerstein Ballroom. "It's
cool to be fans of Burt now," Folds said, adding that Bacharach's wife was a fan
of his band and asked the group to participate in the tribute. "We listened to him
when we were kids and he's part of the musical vocabulary."
Demonstrating their gratitude, Ben Folds Five proceeded to prove that the
songwriter's tunes can hold their own even today by turning Bacharach's #1 hit
"Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" into a dramatic contemporary ballad.
Bucking the night's formal dress code in an orange suit, Folds started the song
in a soft and bouncy style, harking back to B.J. Thomas' version from the late
'60s. Then, taking the tune to another level, Folds transformed the famous horn
coda into a bang-up finale, complete with thrashing drums and pounding piano.
The vastness of Bacharach's influence on pop music was on full display at the
ballroom, as tribute after tribute was paid to the prolific tunesmith by a glittering
array of performers ranging from Bacharach's closest musical ally, pop diva
Warwick, to his current collaborator, rock icon Costello. A more diverse group
would have been hard to find, underscoring the pervasiveness of Bacharach's
musical impact. Also onhand were country star Wynonna Judd, soul balladeer
Luther Vandross, saxophonist David Sanborn and the Canadian pop-jazz
group Barenaked Ladies, among others.
In a career spanning five decades, Bacharach poured out a steady stream of
such memorable pop hits as "Walk On By," "Do You Know the Way to San
Jose?," "I Say a Little Prayer" and "That's What Friends Are For." While in other
times the Bacharach canon may have been viewed by some as un-hip or too
middle-of-the-road, this black-tie gala offered conclusive evidence of the high
regard in which the songwriter is currently held in nearly every sector of pop.
While some of the acts gathered to pay homage were among his biggest
supporters through the years, others seemed to come from a completely
separate musical circle. Of course there was Warwick -- the singer most closely
associated with Bacharach, having recorded many of his hits. But then there
was the Pretenders' pop-punk songstress Hynde, bluesy-pop rocker Crow and
Ben Folds Five, who each joined pop legend Costello in crooning along with
Bacharach at the gala.
The potent blend of talents seemed to overwhelm Bacharach, as he watched
successive performers play his music.
"I have a tribute going on right before my very own eyes ... and I'm still alive,"
Bacharach told the audience as he began the show. After reeling off the names
of the performers, he added: "What a treat that's gonna be."
Crow, barely recognizable in a black gown and feather boa with her hair in a
bun, was the first guest to share the stage with the 69-year-old
Bacharach, whose piano was augmented throughout the evening by a full
orchestra. As he tapped the white-and-black, she performed his 1970 hit
(recorded by the Fifth Dimension) "One Less Bell to Answer." Crow's thin voice,
perfect for '90s pop hits such as "All I Wanna Do," seemed an awkward fit for
this schmaltzy ballad.
After the Spice-Girls-go-indie All Saints did their version of another 1970 hit,
"(There's) Always Something There to Remind Me," Bacharach entertained the
crowd with a medley of his early work that he described as "my first four hits
[which] don't sound like anything I ever wrote since." This collage of tunes
included "Magic Moments" and the theme for the campy 1958 sci-fi classic "The
Currently recording an album with Bacharach, Costello was probably the
evening's most logical guest aside from Warwick. Decked out in black leather
with a purple tie, the British pop songwriter seemed in great spirits as he and
Bacharach discussed the strange collaboration during which they worked
separately until the day of the recording. They proceeded to debut "This House
Is Empty Now," a plaintive ballad not unlike those Costello has composed with
Paul McCartney. Costello also treated the crowd to
HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Costello,_Elvis/God_Give_Me_Strength.ra m">"God Give Me Strength"
m">"God Give Me Strength"(RealAudio excerpt), a song he wrote with
Bacharach for the soundtrack of the 1996 film "Grace Of My Heart," which was
based on the life of another legendary songwriter, Carole King.
Dressed all in black, Hynde walked onto the stage in a pinstripe suit to sing the
Beatles-covered Bacharach song, "Baby It's You," and later "Message to
Michael," which Warwick recorded in 1966. Though Hynde is best-known for
tough rock tunes, her edgy, distinctive voice was perfect for these pop
confections. "You have no idea how much I love that," she said later backstage.
Ex-"Saturday Night Live" funnyman Mike Myers, who featured Bacharach's
"What the World Needs Now Is Love" in "Austin Powers," his recent film
spoofing the swinging '60s, offered the night's comic relief as he sang "What's
New Pussycat?," Tom Jones' 1965 hit. First clad in a tux, Myers shed the
monkey suit to reveal spandex pants and a frilly pink shirt emblazoned with the
message "I Love Burt." He then danced suggestively across the stage, thrusting
his pelvis in and out with two female dancers in cat suits.
After Warwick shared the stage with Bacharach and nostalgically performed the
hits he wrote for her, including "Walk on By" and "Say a Little Prayer," all of the
guests joined her onstage.
Bacharach closed the night with "Alfie," the hit theme from the popular '70s
Michael Caine film.
"I loved sharing my music with you," Bacharach told the crowd as the
artists took their bows.