Pop and Post-Punk / It's Burt and Elvis (Costello), and all's wellBy Stephen Williams. STAFF WRITER
ELVIS COSTELLO AND BURT BACHARACH. Tuesday night at Radio City
Hall. The '60s meet the '90s. Nobody gets hurt.
WHAT THE WORLD needs now is love. What the world's got is Burt
Not such a bad thing. In the '60s Bacharach was a music-meister
of legendary proportions; he was to pure pop what Paul McCartney was to
rangy rock and roll. He crafted a string of hits for Dionne Warwick -
and for the Carpenters, Dusty Springfield, Neil Diamond, Herb Alpert,
Aretha Franklin, and on and on. He won Oscars. He made millions. But by
the '90s he'd become a blip on the trend-ridden pop charts.
Enter Elvis Costello, a post-punker with a genius for affecting
ballads and existential lyrics, a grand sense of style, a grand sense of
gesture. A longtime fan of Bacharach, Costello in 1997 combined with his
hero on a tune called "God Give Me Strength," a slow song that melds
Bacharach's melodic twists and turns with Costello's resonant vibrato.
Presto - a Grammy nomination, and born-again careers together for both
Buddies still after months of collaboration on a new studio album
on Mercury called "Painted From Memory," the duo - featuring Costello
in a glossy tux and trademark black-rim specs - debuted most of the
new material Tuesday night before an adoring audience at Radio City.
The familiar, though, inspired much of the adoration.
In this postmodern, post-ironic, anti-depressant, come-as-you-are
season, Bacharach's shiny, happy '60s sounds score a bull's eye on the
hip target (on a night when Elton John was playing the Garden, Aerosmith
was playing Jones Beach and the Yankees were playing in The Bronx, the
hot ticket in town was the Music Hall).
While the piano player was fairly invisible for the first half
hour, when Bacharach began conducting his film music medley - "The
Look of Love" from "Casino Royale," "What's New Pussycat?" "Raindrops
Keep Falling on My Head" - you could hear the burbles of "I didn't
know he wrote that" from the audience. Bacharach, who is 70 now, was in
far better voice this evening than he was last year at Westbury: He made
it all the way through one of his favorites, "Alfie," with barely a
Despite the joyous oldies medley - Bacharach's music, with its
devious shifts and propulsive energy, is still addictive - Costello's
short set in front of the orchestra of strings, brass and rhythm
section, provided the few punchy moments of the two-hour performance.
Costello, guitar in hand, reinvented the beautiful "Alison" with
a chamber-music landscape and a wash of strings; and the orchestration
of "Accidents Will Happen," by keyboard player Steve Nieve, gave the
song a more threatening aura. The closest Costello got to down-and-dirty
was an aggressive take on "Veronica."
Of course, the purpose of Tuesday's entertainment was to showcase
"Painted From Memory." It is a perfectly fine album, full of soaring
angst, lush (sometimes too lush) orchestral sweep, romantic melody,
bittersweet (sometimes just bitter) lyrics. It is probably more
reflective of Costello's head at the moment - one gets the sense that
he may have had the last word some of the time.
Those numbers bookended the show, and they were too consistent
in texture and tone to establish any dynamic, unless you're making out
on the couch. After a while, one sounded like the next. Bacharach's past
songs were unmistakable; you just didn't confuse "Anyone Who Had A
Heart" with "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance." The new material is
meticulous, and Costello's vocals at Radio City were properly emotional.
In another environment - a small cabaret, perhaps, or over a
candlelight-and-Bordeaux dinner - they just might make you cry.
Copyright 1998, Newsday Inc.
Pop and Post-Punk / It's Burt and Elvis (Costello), and all's well.,
10-15-1998, pp B10.