As rain fell outside Manhattan’s sold-out Hammerstein Ballroom Wednesday night, Gen X’s hippest piano player, Ben Folds, banged out a raucous version of “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head.” The occasion: a star-studded musical tribute to the song’s composer, venerable piano man Burt Bacharach. (The concert airs Wed., April 15, at 9 p.m. on TNT.)
Backstage, Folds, who looked natty in a ’70s-ish velvet jacket and turtleneck, told EW Online that Bacharach is welcome to produce his band’s next album. “He can probably fix a few problems we’ve been having,” joked Folds. “You know, our singing out of tune, playing a little loud – those sorts of things.”
Among the other guests performing in homage to the 69-year-old composer of such pop classics as “What the World Needs Now” and “Alfie” were Sheryl Crow, Elvis Costello, Chrissie Hynde, All Saints, Barenaked Ladies, Luther Vandross, and Dionne Warwick.
All Saints, the photogenic twentysomething quartet from England whose members sang “Always Something There to Remind Me,” admitted they hadn’t even been born when Bacharach composed many of his hits. “I didn?t know until recently that he?d written all these beautiful songs we grew up listening to,” said bodacious blonde Natalie Appleton. Added a grinning Shaznay Lewis, “Is he really that old? He?s a gorgeous man.”
Elvis Costello let it leak that he and Bacharach are co-writing an album and will head into the studio together this June. “The bits of his music I respond to are his real sexy, real dark ballads like ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart,’” said Costello. “But I also love the humor in his light songs. This confuses some people because they imagine you can only do one thing or the other, but Burt’s a real showman who works the full complement of musical styles and human emotions.”
When asked what caused her to take part in the tribute, Pretender Chrissie Hynde said simply, “He writes beautiful melodies that are a joy to sing.” Many others agreed. After crooning “(They Long to Be) Close to You,” the Bacharach tune made famous by the Carpenters, Barenaked Ladies’ vocalist Ed Robertson explained why today’s rock and rollers should pay attention to the night’s honored composer: “Someone who listens to Beck or Oasis and is really interested in the craft of music can study Burt’s songs to see how he’s influenced their songwriting.”
Once again, Bacharach’s magic worked. When the two-hour concert ended, the rain outside had stopped.