"What do you get when you fall in love?" asked the songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David in 1968. The answer - depending on the verse - ranged from an ocean of tears to pain and sorrow. It was a suitably dramatic reply for a deceptively cheery song titled "I'll Never Fall in Love Again."
But what do you get when you fall in love with a Bacharach-penned song? The answer, which came over the course of two shows this weekend, is not as straightforward. There was some pain and sorrow at New England concerts by Bacharach and Dionne Warwick, but there was also complete fizzy joy at the pinch-me-I'm-dreaming sensation of watching the still very vital legends in action. Nearly 40 years after Bacharach - with the help of Warwick - dominated the US charts with a series of songs that were intricately crafted pop souffles doubling as musical Valium for a turbulent national psyche, both artists are still looking for answers to eternal questions such as "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" and, of course, "What's New, Pussycat?" with varying degrees of success.
A robust 79-year-old Bacharach sat at the piano for two hours Friday night at Mohegan Sun, offering a staggering celebration of his catalog. After an overture of "What the World Needs Now Is Love," Bacharach opened with a medley of songs that epitomized the grown-up side of the '60s. In just 20 minutes, he burned through "Don't Make Me Over," "Walk on By," "The 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," "Only Love Can Break a Heart," and "Do You Know the Way . . .?" These are songs that were intended to be enjoyed slowly and romantically with a Tom Collins and a bubbling pot of fondue by a flagstone fireplace, not in hurried medley form. What do you get when you fall in love? Sadly, sometimes it's a greatest hits medley.
Bacharach was a charming host for the evening, possessing the ability to make the audience feel as if they were lounging in his Malibu living room as he chatted about musical partnerships. His 10-piece band was not quite as charming. Attempting to re-create arrangements that were originally performed by full orchestras, Bacharach made the mistake of employing two keyboard players and a synthesized violin that overpowered "Wives and Lovers" to the point of making the song sound like a cheap karaoke knock-off of its once glorious self. And it's high time someone passed a law banning the use of dangling chimes in percussion sections.
Stripped away from the electronic trappings, and a trio of talented-but-slick singers, Bacharach's retrospective became absolutely stunning. "Alfie," sung by Bacharach as he accompanied himself on piano, was a tear-inducing trip into psychoanalysis. Similarly, "The Look of Love" was risque enough to explain why the sexual revolution coincided with the release of the song in 1967.
After putting many of his biggest early hits into quick medley form, Bacharach took his time with more recent offerings, such as the striking "God Give Me Strength" and 1985's "That's What Friends Are For." Some of his song choices were puzzling, such as the drowsy theme from the 1982 film "Making Love," which landed in another medley of movie songs. After two encores, including a spry version of "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," Bacharach suavely sauntered off stage, ending his casino cocktail party in style.
Bacharach's main muse, Warwick, 66, covered a similar cadre of songs the following night in Boston, including several written by Bacharach and David that were hits for other singers. Her voice, a few registers lower than the era when she sang "Are You There (With Another Girl)?" was still warm and light, gaining confidence as the evening progressed. Warwick's breezy interpretation of these songs, a key to the success of the Bacharach catalog, was flawless during the first of two Boston shows. With a voice that sounded more mature, "Kentucky Bluebird (Message to Michael)" held a deeper, more sincere resonance than when it was released in 1966.
Warwick's messier moments came when she attempted to improve on perfection. Her Afro-Cuban pop interpretation of "I Say a Little Prayer" was the musical equivalent of dismantling a Lexus and attempting to reconstruct it as a Chevy. Similarly, she turned "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" into a salsa number that highlighted the skills of her amazing pianist, but did little to improve upon the original.
But her greatest faux pas of the evening was teasing the audience. Warwick performed for a little more than an hour before disappearing after "That's What Friends Are For." Her departure was so hasty and swift, a pair of enamored fans were left standing at the foot of the stage with a massive bouquet of roses and no singer to deliver them too. That's what you get when you fall in love.
Christopher Muther can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.