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Concert Reviews:
Lady Gaga, Tony Bennett get cheek to cheeky at Meadow Brook

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Monday, July 27, 2015

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ROCHESTER HILLS -- The final tally Monday night, July 27, at the Meadow Brook Music Theatre: Tony Bennett, one outfit.

Lady Gaga...eight.

Would you have expected it any other way?

The two singers, six decades apart in age (88 to 29), celebrated their mutual love of the Great American Songbook -- and the Grammy Award-winning success of their 2014 "Cheek To Cheek" album -- with a 30-song, 95-minute exposition on Monday, an association that, even though we've had plenty of time to get used to it, still looks quizzical in the flesh. Gaga, in fact, addressed the gorilla in the room -- or at least the amphitheater -- speaking directly to the Bennett faction in the crowd, before, appropriately, her rendition of Richard Rodgers' "Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered."

"Some of you are probably wondering what the hell I'm doing here...wondering why Tony Bennett is singing jazz with the girl in the meat dress," said Gaga, who made her fame not with standards but with theatrical and sometimes controversial pop artifice. But she was as doting on Bennett as he was of her, and reverent towards the musical canon they were singing. And it was clear throughout the night that the two -- accompanied by two separate bands -- just love working together.

For the crowd, a mix of Bennett's "experienced" fans and Gaga's Little Monster devotees -- who showed plenty of respect for the elder statesman -- the allure of Monday's show as much, if not more, about the event as the music itself. The duo's vocal blend was more broad than tightly harmonious, and casually rendered -- though certainly well studied. Gaga's purity, still in its formative stages for ably singing this material (her "Lush Life" in particular was all over the place), bumped against Bennett's diminishing range, though his phrasing, timing and dynamic sensibility were still as marvelous as they've ever been.

But it was the sense of occasion and their complementary personalities that truly carried the evening. Bennett was the gentleman mentor, class in the extreme. Gaga toned down her usual sense of camp but with just enough attitude to give the show a bit of edge -- including low-slung, tattoo-bearing dresses and a feathery red showgirl outfit whose sheer front left little to the imagination. Acknowledging the band members at one point early in the show, she cracked, "It's not bad. I only slept with three of them...Oh, I'm SO unprofessional!"

There were plenty of moments of musical magic, too. "Anything Goes" and "Cheek To Cheek" got things off to a spirited start, while "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" had a different kind of resonance because of the age difference and Let's Face the Music and Dance" had raw power. Left to his own devices onstage during Gaga's costume changes, Bennett delivered some gems, including a smooth coupling of Charlie Chaplin's "Smile" and Louis Armstrong's "When You're Smiling," a slow, show-stopping treatment of Jean DuShon's "For Once in My Life" and a heartfelt Frank Sinatra tribute with "I've Got the World on a String" and "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning."

Gaga, meanwhile, certainly showed some moxie in taking on Edith Piaf`s signature "La vie en rose," and she turned Cher`s -- yes, Cher's -- "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" into a Latin-tinged opus that showed off both her range and some unconventional but inventive harmonic choices.

By the time the two hit their final stretch "But Beautiful," "The Lady is a Tramp" and "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" -- -- with Gaga, all in white and more feathers, looking like a cross between a swan and a human cotton swab -- any skepticism about whether they belonged together had been dispelled. Cheek to cheek or joined at the hip, Bennett and Gaga proved themselves worthy interpreters, and conservators, of one of the world's most timeless repertoires.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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