Once I got to college and started studying music as a craft I reached an unexpected crossroads. I was learning the the tricks of the trade, how the sausage got made (to quote an unknown hip-hop musical) if you will. Much of what I thought was unfathomable musical genius turned out to be, well, ordinary. My musical idols were totally demystified. Some recovered (The Beatles) but I thought I would never feel quite the same about many others.
Enter the music of Burt Bacharach, particularly songs like “Close To You,” “The Look Of Love,” and “Raindrops Keep Fallin On My Head.” At a impressionable stage of my life Bacharach both challenged my rapidly expanding and suddenly judgmental musical brain while appealing to and justifying the pop music love that I was beginning to think I had to be ashamed of.
Th craftsmanship so obvious in Bacharach’s melodies and chord progressions gave me the confidence that sophistication, the kind I figured was reserved for JS Bach, existed in pop music. Once I had that blessing I never looked back.
Until tonight that is, when I saw Burt Bacharach in concert with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. It was an unexpected surprise to hear he was coming to town and I excitedly spent the last two weeks reading his 2013 memoir Anyone Who Had A Heart to prepare myself. Learning a lot more about the man definitely gave me a deeper appreciation while I watched him perform. Especially because you know someone of his age (89) has a tremendous amount of life, love, triumph, and struggle that he carries into every note he plays.
Bacharach brought along with him 3 vocalists and a modest rhythm section (keys, drums, bass, percussion) for a brisk yet thorough 90 minute set. Most of his greatest hits were condensed into themed medleys (a Hal David set, a songs-from-films set) and this is probably best when considering the amount of must-play material Bacharach must include in a concert. He was charming and incredibly musical. He even took a turn singing a few bars of “Alfie” and “Raindrops.” Bacharach was never the best singer and at his advanced age he was basically talk singing these parts but he did so in such a charismatic way no one seemed to mind.
There was an irony not lost on me about seeing Bacharach and these songs performed with an orchestra. It was the fusion of two seemingly separate musical worlds, something that Bacharach once helped me realize could co-exist in the first place.
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