Even though Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga‘s Cheek to Cheek duets album has been with us for nearly a year, nothing quite prepares you for the startling contrast and sheer delight of seeing the 88-year-old vocal legend and the 29-year-old pop icon onstage together, singing material written before Gaga’s father was even born.
So when a dapper Bennett and shimmery Gaga took the stage at the Borgata Event Center on Friday (July 24) night in Atlantic City, the novelty of the unlikely-yet-organic pairing didn’t wear off until after they’d finished a one-two-three punch opener of “Anything Goes,” “Cheek to Cheek” and “They All Laughed.”
By the time it had, the New York/New Jersey crowd seated in the Borgata’s 2,400 capacity venue was left with something more satisfying than novelty — the rare 21st century concert grounded in musical talent and camaraderie.
While concerts featuring two vocalists trading songs and gibes were a staple of the pre-rock era, it’s not often that you see it successfully resurrected these days. Sure, Jay Z has done incredible shows with Kanye West and Justin Timberlake (separately) in the last few years, but those aren’t exactly brimming with warmth and one-liners.
Gaga and Bennett, however, clearly relish every moment and every note together. Their affection for each other was palpable, as was the audience’s enthusiasm for the duo (competing shouts of “You sing it, Tony!” and “I love you Gaga!” rang out throughout the night).
The between song banter and storytelling — something any showcase featuring the tunes of Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern wouldn’t be complete without — felt casual and unforced. “Tony says you’re sinning against your talent when you drink,” Gaga told the crowd while leaning on a grand piano. After taking a swig from a sizable cocktail, she spat out, “Sorry, Tony.” In addition to booze jokes, Gaga changed the lyrics of “I Won’t Dance” from “When you do the Continental” to “when we do the horizontal,” and she dropped one f-bomb to appreciative hollers.
While Bennett’s banter was more focused on the past (Frank Sinatra was mentioned numerous times), he got in one good jab at Gaga. “We made an album together, Cheek to Cheek,” he told the crowd. “Try to buy it — she really needs the money.”
Gaga even got real for a moment — well, as real as you can get while wearing an oversized gangster suit (it was one of eight costumes she donned during the nearly two-hour show, most of which skewed toward Bond girl glam, even while her tattoos peeked out). The engaged pop star shared that the Borgata hotel wasn’t just the night’s concert venue — it was the site of a buried bad romance. “I broke up with a guy I dated in this hotel,” she said. “He gambled too much. I’m not kidding.” After delivering a knockout, balls-out version of “Bang Bang,” she made it clear the dark theatrics of the song weren’t heartfelt — “I’m not actually all that sore anymore,” she laughed.
The highlight of the evening was easily Gaga’s stunning version of Edith Piaf‘s “La Vie en Rose,” a song she recently added to her live catalog. Wearing pink, naturally (the song title roughly translates as “life through rose-colored glasses), Gaga turned out a flawless solo vocal showcase on par with her jaw-dropping Sound of Music medley at the Oscars. While Bennett and Gaga earned multiple standing ovations during the show, the response to “La Vie en Rose” wasn’t just enthusiastic — it was astonished.
If Gaga gave the night’s standout vocal performance, Bennett’s cozy, comforting voice sounded consistently more impressive throughout the evening. Sure, he doesn’t sound as perfect as he did on classic recordings from the ’50s and ’60s, but the Bennett you hear in 2015 is every bit as technically competent as the Bennett you hear on recordings from his mid ’80s comeback. In short, the man still has one of the greatest voices on this planet.
Although the evening ended with a spirited run through Duke Ellington‘s “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” the show kept going for some Little Monsters who stuck around the casino. A few hours after the set had wrapped, Gaga turned up playing craps with her mom and RHONY Dorinda Medley. The hotel roped off an area for Gaga and her friends to play in private, but that didn’t deter a parade of fans from elbowing their way past patrons at a casino bar to snap pics.
— Lady Gaga (@ladygaga) July 25, 2015
New Yorkers might try to play it cool when spotting Gaga offstage (or at least try to hide their illicit photo efforts), but after midnight in Atlantic City, nothing is gonna stop a Jersey boy or girl from getting an Instagram shot once they’ve set their mind to it.