from The Independent (London), Aug. 1, 2002

Sublime Songs, But Where's the Passion?

Review: Burt Bacharach, Hammersmith Apollo, London

By Sholto Byrnes

I asked Burt Bacharach recently if female fans ever threw their knickers at him on stage. "I never had that hysteria," he replied. You can see why when you watch him perform. Bacharach is all about restraint and good taste, as exemplified by his opening remarks at the Apollo on Saturday night. "I would have been out here earlier, but I couldn't find my shoes," he said. "I wouldn't want to come out in tennis shoes." Of course he wouldn't. Burt isn't casual; he's the living embodiment of that suburban cocktail-party dress code - smart casual. His band was smart casual too. Horn section, with a trumpet player right out of the Herb Alpert school, a borderline-cheese electric piano backing up the great man's grand piano, and three vocalists perched on bar stools who were so discretely miked up that they never took the spotlight away from Bacharach, even when they were doing all the singing. They were tasteful, like a Jaeger sports jacket - and equally underwhelming, at least to begin with.

The low-miking made sense when you realised that no one else was being allowed to get in the way of the songs. They are, of course, why people come to hear Bacharach, but it was a shame he insisted on running through so many of them in swift medleys. It was almost as if he was saying: "Hear that tune? I wrote it! And this one, and this one!"

Thus we had only a few bars of "What's New, Pussycat?" before we were on to "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head". "Walk On By", "Say a Little Prayer" and "(There's) Always Something There to Remind Me" were among the others similarly tossed into the salad, all lettuce and no dressing.

Not that this bothered the audience, many of whom added muted vocal accompaniments on their favourite numbers. "There are lots of memories in these songs," said Burt at one point. "Maybe for you too?" "Yes," replied a solitary man one row up from me. You could tell he meant it.

We had to wait till the last quarter of the concert for Bacharach himself to sing. He's got an odd voice, whispery and faint, but it worked well when he accompanied himself solo on "Alfie" and in a big, swinging version of "Wives and Lovers".

And then, the moment we'd all been waiting for (not) - he was joined by Will Young, who sang "Wives and Lovers" again and a new number Burt has written for the Pop Idol winner's forthcoming album. The cheers that greeted Young's appearance were a little incongruous. In the grand scheme of things, who cares about Will Young? Anyway, Bacharach himself seemed pleased. "That was most enjoyable for me," said BB in his curiously stiff manner as Young walked off, all squeezy thighs and long chin and bearing a remarkable resemblance to Bruce Forsyth. It was certainly nice to see him, but it told that he raised the biggest ovation of the night.

Whatever he says to the contrary, I think it really does irk Bacharach that other people's renditions of his songs get "that hysteria" and he doesn't. Perhaps that's because those performers bring something to the tunes that the songwriter himself seems to lack - passion.