Now 85-year-old songwriting legend Burt Bacharach and his band put on a stellar show full of magic moments at the Chumash Casino Resort on Thursday night, reminding the audience that great songs are truly timeless.
The concert began with the classic “What the World Needs Now is Love,” originally released way back in 1965 — yep, that’s two years before the Summer of Love. Vocals were handled by three wonderful singers: Donna Taylor, John Pagano and Josie James, with Bacharach playing a grand piano and conducting the band, which filled out the sound with two keyboard players, two horn players, a violinist, a bass guitarist and a drummer.
This was followed by the first of several medleys, a construct that is probably the only way to fit a decent portion of Bacharach’s prodigious catalog into one evening. This one began with “Don’t Make Me Over,” the first of many of his songs that Dionne Warwick recorded, this one more than 50 years ago, and like many of his songs with lyrics by the late Hal David. Other hits in this medley included “Walk On By,” “I Say A Little Prayer” and “(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me” — the latter well-known to my generation from Naked Eyes’ synth pop cover in the 1980s.
After another medley, the singers got a chance to shine individually, with James bringing “Anyone Who Had a Heart” to a thrilling climax, Pagano nailing “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself” and Taylor wowing on “Waiting for Charlie to Come Home,” a song that Bacharach introduced by noting how cool it was that it had been recorded by the great Etta James.
Bacharach introduced the next song as being perhaps his only attempt to write a rock ’n’ roll song, a genre that he said “wasn’t in my music vocabulary,” with his “too fancy” chords being “too complicated for Bill Haley and His Comets.” He explained that this song, “My Little Red Book,” was originally recorded as a music cue for the movie What’s New Pussycat with the “hot English group” Manfred Mann. Bacharach joked that it took a surprisingly long time to record and didn’t end up being or deserving to be a hit. But it was later covered by the Los Angeles rock group Love, which “changed the melody and changed the chords,” ending up with a hit. At the Chumash Casino, it was sung by keyboard player Bill Cantos.
Next up was a medley of Bacharach’s first four hits, which he introduced by telling a bit about how he came to be a songwriter. The short version is that from listening to demo recordings sent to the Ames Brothers, who employed him as an accompanist, he realized he could write such songs himself. He ended up at the famed Brill Building, but it took a year and a half before one of his songs was even recorded, and a bit longer before one was a hit.
Previewing the medley, he joked that the songs sound like someone else wrote them, even to himself. It kicked off with “Magic Moments,” and included “The Blob” from the movie of the same name, with sax player Dennis Wilson amusingly making perfectly timed pops with his finger flicking the edge of his mouth.
This was followed by “(They Long to Be) Close To You,” made famous from the cover by The Carpenters, and the smooth sounds continued with “Make It Easy on Yourself” and “On My Own.”
The final medley of the evening consisted of Bacharach’s contributions to motion pictures, which he noted were “good luck for me.” This started with “The Look of Love” and included the Academy Award winners “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” and “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” plus “What’s New Pussycat” and “Alfie.” For “The Look of Love,” “Raindrops” and “Alfie,” we were treated to Bacharach himself on lead vocals.
The encore began with two newer songs, “Every Other Hour” and “Hush,” from the recent musical Some Lovers, which he did with Stephen Sater. The concert closed with a reprise of “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” which the audience was encouraged to sing along to and did so with great enthusiasm.
Bacharach continues to write new music, notably together with Mike Myers and Elvis Costello for a Broadway show about Austin Powers (you might remember that Bacharach made cameos in the Austin Powers movies).
More than 55 years since his first hit song, Burt Bacharach is still going strong, performing his timeless songs in concert and working on yet more songs for the future.
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
I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself
Waiting for Charlie to Come Home
My Little Red Book
Story of My Life
Tower of Strength
(They Long to Be) Close To You
Make It Easy on Yourself
On My Own
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 Show) Liberty Valance
Wives and Lovers
A House is Not a Home
Every Other Hour
Any Day Now
Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head
— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.