An Evening With Burt Bacharach at Vector Arena

By William Dart

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The Vector Arena may be a barn but, such was the charisma and doggone charm of Burt Bacharach that we felt we had indeed enjoyed two intimate hours with a living legend.

With the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra ("a damn good symphony orchestra", as Bacharach later hailed it), three vocalists and a band of slick LA sidesmen, it was an unmitigated tunefest.

The self-effacing maestro was more than happy to talk. He spieled about taking over his music out of self-defence ("if the songs are going to be ruined let me ruin them myself") and there was the expected, and much appreciated, Bush-bash ("there is no way I could be invited to the White House in the next year and a half" received hearty applause).

While smoothly segued medleys frustrated when your favourite tune floated on by in a few seconds, they did allow for surprises, such as the shapely One Less Bell to Answer or the schlocky Making Love.

The arrangements had high-grade TLC, from the finessed piano obligato in This Guy's in Love with You to the gospel fervour of Any Day Now. The detail behind Anyone Who Had a Heart, Bacharach's self-confessed favourite, made it pure contemporary artsong.

Josie James, Donna Taylor and John Pagano are also the vocalists on Bacharach's 2005 Grammy-winning At This Time album. While never less than musicianly, one's heart went out to the two women having to tackle songs inseparable from the great Dionne Warwick.

Pagano had fewer precedents, ripping into The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance with a real showbiz zing and taking the lead in the most incisive of Bacharach's recent songs, Who Are These People?

Also outstanding was Dennis Wilson's sax taking Wives and Lovers to a storming jazz work-out.

Bacharach's crooning was as infectious as ever, delivering Alfie phrase by phrase, after acknowledging Hal David's brilliant lyrics.

If recent songs indicate the classic days are over, the audience was amply rewarded by a final sing-along through Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head.

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