Tony Bennett Shines at Concord Pavilion with Lady Gaga
By Lou Fancher
Better Than: Smooching with Madonna on SNL, although locking lips with Lady Gaga’s pal, Tony Bennett, would win the blue ribbon of love.
Lady Gaga sings the American Songbook masterfully, but Tony Bennett owns it. At age 88, still bringing the duo’s May/December “Cheek to Cheek” tour to 10,000 fans at the outdoor Concord Pavilion, the legendary songster is the show.
That’s no slam against Bennett’s 29-year-old sidekick, whose monstrous musical muscles were on full display, especially in the 95-minute concert’s torch song ballads. In fact, Lady Gaga set an egalitarian tone, holding her thunder at times, or using it to follow Bennett, who proved he has abundant rumble of his own.
Packed with 29 songs and Lady Gaga parading like a chandelier with legs in several shades of sequined silver, or ravaged white feathers, or a red dress get-up — minus the dress — and with slim banter between songs, the performance is like a lark, with every step adding more spring to the next stride.
“Anything Goes” kicked off the festivities, with Lady Gaga projecting a glimpse of the future in her “start-over” role by returning to her roots and emerging as a formidable vocal jazz and show tune talent. Bennett offered the night’s first opportunity to cherish history, but the opening tunes cracked the window on a surprising realization: the singers were stronger when singing solo than together (at least at this performance). The chemistry between them was all there and filled with ease, and the tone and texture of their voices blended gloriously at times, but a few un-synced vocal entries and the occasional imbalance left the impression each was holding back — and that took a bit of sheen off their mutual shine.
Fortunately, a good portion of the show had Bennett or Lady Gaga alone to connect with the audience, who called out “I love you Tony!” and “We love you Gaga!” at regular intervals. The stellar Tony Bennett Quartet, Gaga’s nimble Brian Newman Quintet, and the rest of the band served up only symbiosis.
Bennett sings as if he’s just had a thought and purrs or growls or belts out lyrics to express it. “For Once in My Life” was tender, sliding into the sweet spot with pianist Mike Renzi the perfect platform. “The Good Life” had him blasting a final “kiss that good life goodbye” to extended applause. “In My Solitude” was simply gripping, with the band asserting itself boldly and a last, held note a denial of age and mortality. “How Do You Keep The Music Playing” may have been the evening’s highlight, climbing from a mellow launch up a zigzag staircase to proclaim “music never ends.”
Lady Gaga’s “Nature Boy,” “Bang, Bang,” and “Lush Life” showed admirable discretion as well as sophisticated singing. Transformed from naughty necessity, she can smoke like a coal ember without feeling obligated to light the entire house on fire. Stepping back for guitarist Gray Sargent to solo — and in other songs directing attention to Brian Newman’s terrific trumpeting or other instrumentalists — there was a willingness to place music in front of personality. Sure, she contributed enough personal sharing (about loss, betrayal, spiritual saggy-ness and misdirection) to satisfy her fans, but primarily, Lady Gaga just did what she does best: recognize great lyrics and gorgeous melodies in a song and sing them.
I’m Just Sayin’: Music concerts aren’t the obvious place to ponder pronouns, but the audience’s “we” when calling out their love for Gaga, versus the “I” for Bennett, held a clue to the difference between them. A collective, one-of-many, plural fan group adores Gaga. With Bennett, it’s personal, intimate — and easy to feel he’s singing just for you.
I’m Just Sayin’ 2: The Pavilion folks need to better line up those flashy, new moveable rows of chairs with the indicators printed in the aisles. Serious disruption took place while an usher used a flashlight mid-show to flip up a seat and search for the label as 6 disgruntled patrons stood in the aisle and other people craned to keep watching the action onstage.
Cheek to Cheek
They All Laughed
For Once in My Life
Sing, You Sinners
Watch What Happens
The Good Life
Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)
Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered
Smile/When You're Smiling
Steppin' Out With My Baby
I Won't Dance
The Lady's In Love With You
I Won't Dance
I Can't Give You Anything But Love
I’ve Got The World On A String
In the Wee Small Hours
How Do You Keep the Music Playing
Let's Face the Music and Dance
Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye
Who Cares (So Long As You Care for Me)
I Left My Heart in San Francisco
The Lady Is a Tramp
It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)