It was not "Costello Goes Lounge." Nor was it "Bacharach-And-Roll." It was more like "Elvis & Burt-palooza" at the Universal Amphitheater last week, as one of only four U.S. concert appearances by new collaborators — and new best friends — Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach was presented to an adoring, nearly-packed house. Touring in support of the eagerly anticipated (not to mention just-as-eagerly over-hyped) album combining their talents, Painted From Memory (Mercury), released a month ago, the former angry young punk and the erstwhile easy-listening king concocted a well-crafted show, which not only did justice to their new material, but also dipped back into their respective past accomplishments. Best of all, it worked. Beautifully. And like the album itself, it lived up to every bit of the hype.
Performing with a 20-odd-piece orchestra, including Bacharach (who conducted the whole shebang with his trademark head and hand gestures) on grand piano, a trio of back-up singers and longtime Costello stalwart Steve Nieve on keyboards, Elvis (decked out in a tuxedo which, coupled with his black-rimmed specs, made him look like a less-portly Allan Sherman) was in fine voice, adding a few nuances and flourishes to his already amazing vocal parts on the album's songs. But basically, the Painted tunes — and every one of them was expertly performed — were virtually identical to the studio versions, aside from the finale of "God Give Me Strength," in which the female singers lent able support to Costello's emotionally-wrenched and vulnerable vocals, covering for him on the falsetto part. Most interesting was the non-album material.
While Bacharach's solo turn consisted of two extended medleys of his pure-pop chestnuts (most of the them from the sixties, and almost all with lyrics from his longtime partner Hal David), including familiar-whether-you-knew-it-or-not ditties like "Walk on By,' "I Say a Little Prayer," "What's New, Pussycat?" "Alfie" and "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" — the latter two sung by Burt himself in a poignant if passable, voice. It was Costello who decided to rework his history. Suitable to the evening's setting, he and Nieve contributed pop arrangements of some of his best-known songs, making full use of the strings and horns at their disposal. "Accidents Will Happen" and "Too Soon to Know" were enhanced somewhat and lushed-up by the orchestrations, while the classic "Almost Blue" was given the effective less-is-more backing it deserves. "Veronica" was stripped down to strum-happy acoustic pop, and "Alison" was reborn once again through a winning marriage of weepy strings and stingingelectric guitar, but it was "Just A Memory," originally written with Dusty Springfield in mind, that benefitted the most from the orchestral arrangements; it sounded like a completely realized torch song for the first time, rendering the original version to demo status.
And if all that wasn't enough, Costello also took on some staples of the Bacharach-David songbook throughout the show, including "My Little Red Book," Anyone Who Had a Heart," "Make It Easy on Yourself" and two tunes he had recorded in the past — "I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself" and "Baby, It's You" — all to good effect and with respect to the composers.