Burt Bacharach Royal Festival Hall, London
Friday 05 July 1996
Several of the most famous songs were tossed away in the form of medleys, which is the kind of thing one can get away with when there's so much gold in the archive. Bacharach's choice of featured tunes was sometimes surprising. He had a strong quartet of female singers to handle most of the principal lyrics, but he seemed to enjoy some of the instrumental pieces even more, and it highlighted the bizarre inconsistency in his work. The score of Casino Royal may have included "The Look of Love", one of his loveliest melodies, but it also contained a piece of tack called "Bond Street". Burt gave us both of them.
The great Bacharach is squarely within the material he wrote in the early- to-middle Sixties, when he and David seemed effortlessly to hit a succession of peaks. Some of the songs were almost too sophisticated to succeed. The banal sentiments of "Wives and Lovers" are transcended by the sublime melody, the controlled drama of "Anyone Who Had a Heart" is measured against a curious construction which seems to start the song in the middle. "Alfie", which Bacharach acknowledged as one of his favourites, unspools as a single flowing line. Hearing these impeccably shaped pieces of craftsmanship, one after another, underlined how Bacharach bridged the old-school professionalism of Tin Pan Alley with the hook-bound direction of modern pop.
Trouble is, he couldn't sustain that level of excellence. There is a country mile between the vintage Burt and the likes of the ghastly "Arthur's Theme" or the California pabulum of "Heartline", even if he doesn't profess to hear the difference. When the orchestra tackled the most recent material, the otherwise adoring audience grew more muted in their applause. Burt can't help it: he's a nostalgia merchant. But at least he won't die penniless. He spent a lot of the show telling us about his racehorses.
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