Painted From Memory

Jun 13, 2015
Michael Falzon (left) and Luke Kennedy.

Michael Falzon (left) and Luke Kennedy.

The unlikely pairing of 1960s pop composer Burt Bacharach and edgy new wave performer Elvis Costello created one of the most interesting albums of the late 1990s.

“Painted From Memory” grew out of a collaboration between the two on a single, very special, song – “God Give Me Strength” – and, thankfully, they went on create a whole album.

The song cycle exploring love and loss is an extraordinary work, full of complex jazz harmonies, unexpected rhythmic twists and intriguing lyrics, yet all brought together as accessible pop songs by two masters of their craft.

For this year’s Cabaret Festival, two young Australian tenors – Michael Falzon (known for musical theatre, including We Will Rock You) and Luke Kennedy (seen on TV’s The Voice and as part of The Ten Tenors) recreate the album on stage.

They’re joined by a gun nine-piece band, including strings and trumpet (essential to any Bacharach performance). And it all works beautifully.

The band, which included members of the Adelaide Art Orchestra, began with an “overture” of sorts – an instrumental version of Bacharach’s “The Look of Love”.  The two singers then reeled off a perky version of Costello’s 1980s collaboration with Paul McCartney, “Veronica”, before launching into a track-by-track recreation of the album.

These are complex, demanding songs, which stretch performers musically and emotionally – and Kennedy and Falzon bravely tackle the melodic jumps and leaps without flinching.

Kennedy, with his powerful, reedy tenor, was made to sing the Grammy-winning “I Still Have That Other Girl”,  while Falzon flies with “This House is Empty Now”.

Neither quite wrenches the emotion out of the songs that Costello does, with his distinctive and (sometimes) straining voice – on the other hand, Kennedy and Falzon both have a greater range than the composer, adding a new dimension to the songs for fans of the album.

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At the halfway point, a musical intermission allows the band to showcase some wonderful string work on “Close to You”, and Kennedy works a poignant version of “Alfie”, a Bacharach/David collaboration from the 1966 film.

Then it’s back into the album tracks, finishing with two stunning performances – a fierce performance of “What’s Her Name Today?” by Kennedy, and then Falzon owns the soaring beauty of “God Give Me Strength”.

It’s perfect cabaret music – lush and emotional – and a great reminder of the masterful achievement of this album.

Painted From Memory is performed again night (Saturday 13 June).

More Adelaide Cabaret Festival stories and reviews here.

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