CitySearchNYC Explore the city with our editors
Whaddya want?
Nothing Now
Burt Bacharach: still cooler than you.
Hammerstein Ballroom, April 9 -- If versatility is any indication of genius, Burt Bacharach's claim to be one of America’s greatest songwriters is well founded. No other popular musician can boast such a dazzling repertoire of styles. From the soul classics of Dionne Warwick's "Walk on By" and Aretha Franklin's "I Say a Little Prayer" to the Carpenters’ wistful masterpiece "Close to You"; from the pure pop of Sandie Shaw's "Always Something There to Remind Me," to the comic flair of Tom Jones' "What's New Pussycat," Burt has managed to make both the sublime and the ridiculous seem classic (or at least classy).

The bizarre combination of cynicism and nostalgia that is postmodern taste has rescued Bacharach from easy-listening oblivion and has elevated him to that strange kitsch megastardom which Tom Jones and Evel Knievel have both recently enjoyed. In some quarters, getting a cameo in "Austin Powers" and having Oasis cover one of your songs is as close as you get to making it all over again. Hence, Bacharach's tribute concert was generously endorsed by both the old and the new--featured artists included: Sheryl Crow, Ben Folds Five, All Saints, Chrissie Hynde, Dionne Warwick, and Luther Vandross--and will be televised by TNT on Wednesday, April 15 at 9 pm.

The presence of such a varied lineup and of the 50 TV cameras recording it made the concert both fascinating and infuriating--probably as much for Bacharach, as for the audience. In general, those musical guests with a sense of proportion succeeded best. All Saints, a four-piece girl group (whose combined age must be less than Sandie Shaw's) delivered "Always Something There to Remind Me," with simple youthful energy. Mike Myers performed a hysterically hammy rendition of Tom Jones' crotch-grinding classic, "What's New Pussycat." Old masters Dionne Warwick and Luther Vandross expressed the musical sophistication and the emotional depth of Bacharach's more complex compositions.

Ben Folds Five was the irrefutable disaster of the evening. The set change for their performance took so long that Bacharach was left wandering around--lost on his own stage--dodging roadies, and cryptically consulting producers offstage. The band--when they eventually did arrive--butchered his classic "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" with such wanton, nihilistic rock stupidity that a bewildered Bacharach was left musing: "You sang that in F sharp major, a key I can't even think in."

As the night wore on, the set shifts became more intrusive and less productive, and the constant interruptions for TNT's commercials put a strain on both Bacharach's and the audience's patience. Indeed, as Bacharach rose to one last quiet peak, rasping out an unaccompanied version of "Alfie," one was left with the depressing feeling that it was us, with our television tributes and "rememberobelia," who were truly kitsch, while Burt Bacharach--once contemptuously crowned the high king of muzak--was cutting edge.

Send feedback here.