Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow Honor Burt Bacharach

Glittering tribute to songwriting legend features the likes of Chrissie Hynde and Dionne Warwick.

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

songwriters today.

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

Blob."

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" (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.