Like everybody else, we were thrilled to learn a few months ago that a batch of previously unheard songs by Burt and Elvis was about to surface.
Rumors of the collaboration had swirled around the music industry for decades. Reynolds and Presley, two gifted entertainers not widely known for their composing skills, had apparently spent weeks in an intense songwriting partnership during the late '60s.
So, we were shocked when the Burt and Elvis who appeared on stage Tuesday at the Universal Amphitheatre turned out to be pop icons Bacharach and Costello. And the results were undoubtedly more compelling than anything Reynolds and Presley could have come up with.
Joking aside, the concert, based on the artful new album Painted From Memory (Mercury), was simply wonderful.
The presentation seemed to evoke another era. Costello, sporting a tux and close-cropped hair, and Bacharach, a spry 70 years old, led 25 musicians and a vocal trio in an evening of sophisticated, melodic modern pop that touched on aspects of both songwriters' long careers.
Costello, in superb voice, acted as master of ceremonies, introducing the songs and offering wry, irony-free asides. The platinum-haired Bacharach sat at the piano, alternately peppering the tunes with witty musical phrases or turning to conduct the ensemble.
There were moments of Vegas glitz during a solo segment in which Bacharach performed a medley of his enduring '60s melodies, including "Walk on By," "Alfie" and "Trains and Boats and Planes." When he asked the packed audience to sing along with his Oscar-winning standard "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," the crowd complied.
Best of all, though, were the melancholic Bacharach-Costello collaborations, among them "In the Darkest Place," "I Still Have That Other Girl" and "Tears at the Birthday Party," in which the arrangements were lush but never saccharine.
One number from Painted From Memory that clearly stood out Tuesday was "The Long Division," with its subtle syncopation and a winning vocal performance by Costello that drew smiles from Bacharach.
Costello, 43, also had his own segment, accompanying himself on guitar in readings of a strings-laden "Alison," the gorgeous "Almost Blue" and his biggest American hit, "Veronica."
There was also a memorable "I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself," which Costello has been performing since the early days, evidence of his long-term affection for the songbook of Bacharach and lyricist Hal David.
A standing ovation brought the unlikely duo out again for the darkly moving "God Give Me Strength," a strong finale to one of the most satisfying musical events in some time.