Cinéastes will doubtless recall that when Austin Powers was released from his three-decade cryogenic freeze, the personal effects he reclaimed included only one LP: "Burt Bacharach Plays His Hits." Naturally! As Bacharach demonstrated in an elegant set at the Music Center at Strathmore on Sunday night, whether it's a 30-year hibernation you're facing or merely a brutal heat wave, he knows just what's needed to cool you down, baby.
The octogenarian songwriter got a standing ovation before he'd played a note on the piano. To begin, he marshaled a portentous chorus of his signature tune, "What the World Needs Now Is Love," before announcing, "The music you're going to hear was all written by the same person." But you don't survive five decades in show business without humility, and none of Bacharach's citations of his successes and innovations felt vain. After "Anyone Who Had a Heart," he observed that the song changes time signatures every bar. "I didn't know any better," he chuckled. (Don't believe it.)
While a surfeit of chintzy keyboards kept the concert from attaining transcendent status, it was a groovy romp through a peerless pop songbook all the same. The star relied heavily on medleys to shoehorn his career into a planned 90-minute set that swelled to 110 because, he said, "I feel it just so much." An audience singalong made "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" the most fondly received of his movie themes (from "Butch Cassidy") but Burt appeared equally delighted to play the loopiest of them, "Beware of the Blob" (from, er, "The Blob"). He mouthed the words, and stood when playing with particular brio, but left the singing -- with a few tentative exceptions -- to his staff, who were able, if kind of ersatz.
-- Chris Klimek
Hayden manages to take a reliably mediocre type of music -- gloomy singer-songwriter fare -- and make it perfectly pleasurable. On Sunday at Iota the scruffy Canadian, backed by a four-piece band, played songs that were sad but not depressing, mellow but not boring, emotional but not sappy. He consistently worked in the realm of the melancholy but offered enough musical variation to separate himself from the sad-sack pack.
The key lesson to be learned from Hayden's performance is that one doesn't have to be alone with an acoustic guitar to play forlorn songs. Longing, love and lost love were the main lyrical themes throughout the evening, and Hayden proved to be a keen observer, if not a particularly enlightening one, of those issues. But his songs always had something to offer besides sad sentiments, whether it was weepy pedal steel in "Home by Saturday," a touch of harmonica on "Barely Friends," the triple-guitar grunge-light attack of "Dynamite Walls" or bouncy piano of "The Van Song."
Before launching into the Big Star-esque power pop ditty "Hollywood Ending," Hayden (full name Paul Hayden Desser) told the audience that he and his band mates heard the song over the piped-in radio station at a Philadelphia IHOP earlier that weekend and noted it was "pretty much the first time since 1995" he heard himself on the radio. That's when his song "Bad as They Seem" was a minor alt-rock hit and it was clear that many in the audience had been fans since then. He drew plenty of cheers when he closed the show with a solo acoustic version of the song; no accompaniment was needed to make it memorable.
-- David Malitz