Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga dipped into the Great American Songbook with hits from their album, “Cheek to Cheek,” for an enthusiastic audience in Vancouver, B.C., on Memorial Day.
VANCOUVER, B.C. — Bennett wore black tie.
Naturally, the Lady wore a dazzling array of lamé.
And if there had been any more standing ovations, you could have mistaken night No. 1 of Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga’s two-show run at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre for an aerobics class for the well-dressed.
Here’s how the The Cheek to Cheek tour began in Vancouver on Monday night: with a recording of the late Frank Sinatra introducing “the greatest singer out there, Mr. Tony Bennett.”
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Striding onstage, the 88-year-old introduced his 29-year-old partner, and Bennett’s backing quartet swung into Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes.”
Anything did go, as Lady Gaga shimmied and hammed it up enough to do a “Lawrence Welk Show” routine proud. Vocally, neither singer hit it right, and the title track from the pair’s Grammy-winning album, Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek,” didn’t get much better treatment.
The Steve and Edie shtick was worrisome.
Then Gaga left the stage and Bennett took Jean DuShon’s “For Once In My Life” into the stratosphere. His phrasing, his sustain and his power are absolutely staggering. When he belted the lyric, “I have someone who needs me” — and stopped — the audience was on its feet, overpowering everything else coming off the stage.
There were few to none of Gaga’s little monsters in the crowd; many here likely never paid Lady Gaga much mind until her Julie Andrews tribute at the Oscars earlier this year.
But they love Tony.
He just kept blowing them all away with a scat-happy clap-along in “Sing You Sinners” and a rousing “The Good Life.” Gaga returned in new rhinestone regalia and they did a solid version of “Nature Boy.”
If Lady Gaga is just working out the latest incarnation of her Bowie/Madonna complex with this pairing, there is no doubt that Bennett is there to once again impress all with his legacy. He’s still the oldest performer to hit the top of the Billboard chart — he got there first in 2011 with “Duets.”
Lady Gaga wasn’t having us on. Arriving onstage in a blinding silver pantsuit, she let her young backing band, the Bryan Newman Quintet, stretch out some on an extended intro to Cher’s “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” and rode its Latin vamp arrangement like she owned it.
Solo, her performance was as spot-on as Bennett’s. She is a born entertainer.
That is the underlying drive of “Cheek to Cheek.” As a recording — sales aside — it’s just another well-crafted visit to the Great American Songbook. Live, it’s a study of two very different New York City singers, with undying respect for the classics, having a blast and sharing it with an adoring audience.
At 25-plus numbers, the concert didn’t send anybody home wanting, and the solo and duet arrangement of the set list had ample room for each artist to spin a personal style into a group effort. This also kept it interesting from an interpretive angle as Bennett’s backing band is a study in subtlety while Gaga’s needed to strut some.
They could do this again and probably earn equal bank and Grammy nods. The concert was fun, and it was awesome to see a World War II veteran selling out a show on Memorial Day.
Personally, I’m crossing my fingers for a Lady Gaga and Dolly Parton project, just for the wigs alone.