Costello, Bacharach Preview Tour At Record Store

Former new-wave icon calls duo's appearance first official show supporting Painted From Memory.

NEW YORK -- Elvis Costello appeared to be amused.

The genre-jumping, former new-wave icon and his current musical partner, veteran

hitmaker Burt Bacharach, were about to play what Costello called their first official live

show together, spotlighting songs from their joint CD, Painted From Memory,

released Sept. 29.

But first, the famously acerbic singer/songwriter, whose black-clad ensemble was broken

only by flashes of yellow on his tie, couldn't resist commenting upon the oddness of the

venue for their free, Saturday-night performance.

"This is the first time I've ever played in a concert hall with an escalator in the middle of

it," Costello said, as he and Bacharach stood on a tiny stage in the gleaming, cavernous

depths of the lower level of the newly opened Virgin Megastore in Manhattan's

Greenwich Village.

Despite minimal publicity for the appearance, hundreds of fans, mostly in their 20s and

30s, packed the store to see the two legendary songwriters perform together. The

performance served as a preview of Costello and Bacharach's brief upcoming tour and

also featured an autograph-signing session. Most of the audience appeared to be fans of

Costello rather than Bacharach, but many toted copies of the new album and seemed

to know the album's co-written songs already.

Michael Farragher is a 45-year-old Manhattan fan who remembers seeing Costello

perform in the late '70s with the Attractions, Costello's hard-rocking, new-wave backup

band. At the record-store performance, Farragher said that he wouldn't have believed

back then that he'd someday see Costello perform with Bacharach, the writer of such

soft-pop hits as "Walk On By" (1964) and "I Say a Little Prayer" (1967).

"It's been a remarkable musical journey," Farragher said. "And [this is] a wonderful

pairing of musical ideas. You can't deny the feeling in Bacharach's piano playing."

With Bacharach playing delicate piano accompaniment, Costello began the short set

with Painted From Memory's

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Costello,_Elvis/Toledo.ram">"Toledo"

(RealAudio excerpt), singing the song's witty, urbane lyrics carefully but passionately, in

a vibrato-laden croon that showed little trace of his rock roots.

Costello started off singing with one hand placed casually in his pocket, in a style closer

to that of the late, great crooner Frank Sinatra than that of a pioneering rocker. But on

emotional songs, such as the new album's "This House Is Empty Now," he abandoned

the laid-back pose. Instead, Costello gripped the microphone-stand tightly, swaying it

back and forth as he sang so fiercely that his face went flush.

Bacharach's piano performance was no less impassioned, as he displayed his

celebrated melodic sense with impromptu fills and filigrees that took the place of the

more elaborate arrangements on the duo's album. The grandfatherly Bacharach,

dressed in a blue sweater over a white polo shirt -- a la children's television

personality Mr. Rogers -- could occasionally be seen mouthing the words to the songs as

Costello sang them.

The duo also worked its way through two other songs from Painted From Memory:

the title track and "I Still Have That Other Girl in My Head." The performance concluded

with

href="http://www.addict.com/music/Costello,_Elvis/God_Give_Me_Strength.ram">"God

Give Me Strength" (RealAudio excerpt), a song -- included on both the

soundtrack to the movie "Grace of My Heart" and Painted From Memory -- that

marked the genesis of Bacharach and Costello's collaboration.

Though there was no denying that the brightly lit, ultra-modern "megastore" was a

bizarre setting for a low-key, piano-and-vocal performance of the duo's melancholy

songs of heartbreak, the audience greeted each song with respectful silence, then

raucous applause, which visibly pleased Bacharach and Costello.

"We're glad to see you want to hear the new songs," Costello said from the stage.

The duo encored with an intense version of Bacharach and Hal David's '60s classic

"Make It Easy on Yourself," which was recorded by pop singer Dionne Warwick, the

performer most associated with Bacharach-David tunes. Costello promised from the

stage that his and Bacharach's upcoming tour would feature performances of other

Bacharach classics as well as Costello's own songs. "I can't tell you how much I'm

enjoying working with this gentleman," he said of Bacharach.

As he waited for post-performance autographs in a line that stretched throughout the

store's bottom floor, Joshua Hertz, a 23-year-old Manhattanite, praised the show.

"It was great. Those are hard songs to sing live, and it must be odd at this stage in

[Costello's] career to have people walking in and out like that," he said, referring to

people walking on the same escalator that Costello had noticed.

As he signed autographs, Costello, now wearing a black fur hat and a yellow scarf, said

that he didn't really mind the escalator. "I loved it. It was like having a stage show," he

said, his grin revealing the famous gap between his front teeth.

Following the performance, Bacharach expressed delight at the audience's reaction. "It

was a fantastic response, a wonderful crowd," he said. Costello echoed him: "It was

tremendous; it was unbelievable. I mean, we didn't know what it would be like, playing

intimate songs in a place like this with all [the] bright lights."

The duo's tour will begin Oct. 13 with a show at Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan and

will continue with shows in Washington, D.C., Chicago and Universal City, Calif.