Before a few dozen slightly tardy members of an audience of about 1,400 found their way to their seats Friday at Muriel Kauffman Theatre, Burt Bacharach and his backing band had raced through renditions of several enormous hits.
Following an overture of “What the World Needs Now,” a medley of “Walk On By,” “This Guy’s In Love With You” and “(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me” and others opened the concert. Most songwriters are considered successes if two or three of their compositions are embraced by the public. Bacharach has co-written dozens of massive hits.
Bacharach, 86, is one of the great melodists of the 20th century. Working with lyricists like Hal David, Bacharach is responsible for tunes that have become integral to pop culture.
“On My Own,” the 1986 duet with Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald, was his last big commercial triumph, but Friday’s two-hour concert demonstrated that Bacharach remains artistically engaging.
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He related that he visited his onetime home on Warwick Boulevard the day before the concert.
“How is that for an odd coincidence, since many of these songs were sung by Dionne Warwick?” he asked. He lived in the house for a very brief time before his family left Kansas City.
Warwick, the original vocalist on Bacharach compositions including “Do You Know the Way to San Jose,” was hardly missed. Three outstanding singers delivered the Bacharach canon with panache.
Josie James’ flashy work on “Anyone Who Had a Heart” surpassed Warwick’s reading. Donna Taylor shone on a take of “Waiting For Charlie (To Come Home),” a song Bacharach co-wrote for Etta James.
“Any Day Now,” a hit for Chuck Jackson and Ronnie Milsap, was among the selections delivered by the soulful vocalist John Pagano.
A seven-piece band provided backing in the lush easy-listening format associated with Bacharach. He remains committed to casting his compositions in outdated settings.
Bacharach confessed his distaste for rock ’n’ roll in his introduction to “My Little Red Book.” His use of unusual time signatures and melodic eccentricities certainly are not suited for rock. The best moments of Friday’s concert occurred when Bacharach performed three selections with minimal accompaniment.
A delicate rasp, Bacharach’s voice on the heartrending “A House Is Not a Home” and a wonderfully revised reading of “Wives and Lovers” caused many fans to dab at their eyes.
He barely seemed to possess enough breath to eke out the phrase “I believe in love” during “Alfie,” a powerful sentiment reinforced by Bacharach’s memorable effort.
What the World Needs Now Is Love, Don’t Make Me Over, Walk On By, This Guy’s In Love With You, I Say a Little Prayer, Trains and Boats and Planes, Wishin’ and Hopin’, (There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me, One Less Bell to Answer, I’ll Never Fall in Love Again, Only Love Can Break a Heart, Do You Know the Way to San Jose, Anyone Who Had a Heart, God Give Me Strength, Waiting For Charlie (To Come Home), Come Touch the Sun, My Little Red Book, The Windows of the World, Baby It’s You, Message to Michael, Take It Easy On Yourself, On My Own, Close to You, The Look of Love, Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do), What’s New Pussycat?, The World is a Circle, The April Fools, Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, Making Love, Wives and Lovers, Alfie, A House Is Not a Home, Every Other Hour, Hush, Any Day Now, Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head (reprise).