Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach climbed aboard the stage in the basement of the Virgin Megastore on Union Square. It was not the hippest room in town.
The Virgin Megastore is a monstrosity. A disk jockey sits in a booth, overlooking the floor like a cheap god. There are tables where you can have coffee and croissants. There’s an escalator. It’s part state-of-the-art record store, part hell.
Mr Costello was wearing a black jacket, black shirt, black tie. Mr Bacharach was wearing a baby blue crew-neck sweater over a white Ralph Lauren tennis shirt. The audience of 150 or so aging sleeksters stood crowded together.
“This is the first time I’ve played in a concert hall with an escalator in the middle,” Mr. Costello said into the microphone.
Twenty years ago, on his first U.S. tour, he didn’t make nice with his audience. He played blistering shows that lasted 45 minutes. He glared. People left feeling impressed but ripped off. There were small riots.
Back then, he could afford to be nasty. That Elvis Costello was an instant legend, the darling boy of New Wave. The Elvis Costello in the Virgin Megastore basement was just a guy, a 44-year-old singer with a growing back catalogue and a shrinking fan base. No wonder he looked like a nervous suitor all dressed up for a first date.
Mr Bacharach, 70, tinkled the first few notes of “Toledo,” a bouncy ballad from the just-released album Painted From Memory. The new duo seemed tentative and not quite acquainted with each other or the song. Mr. Bacharach played in an easy, decorative style that might have sounded mushy to fans of venomous Costello songs like “Pump It Up” or “I Want You.” And Mr. Costello was singing in a voice that could easily put off fans of Mr. Bacharach’s work with pop divas and “icons” like Dionne Warwick, Dusty Springfield, Tom Jones and Luther Vandross. But then he sloughed off imposters for the third song, “Painted From Memory.” It’s a ballad about an artist who paints a portrait of his ex –lover only to imagine, jealously “those eyes, they smile for someone else.” Mr Costello brought the song to life. It was raw. It was great So this record store basement may not have been the hippest room in town, but you know what, I can’t help that. It’s not my responsibility. I’ve …….