A supremely talented trumpeter and equally capable tenor saxophonist joined a small rhythm section at the Chelsea Tuesday night, opening for the first night of larger-than-life artists Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett’s two co-headlining performances at the Cosmopolitan. The set was the perfect primer for what followed, as Gaga and Bennett’s Cheek to Cheek tour promotes the album of the same name packed with standards. From the trumpeter’s improvisational chromatic runs to the saxophonist’s smooth purr, the makeshift ensemble garnered considerable attention from a Las Vegas New Year's Eve eve crowd, with many bobbing their heads along and some even using the space around them to show off their swing-dance moves.
From the delightful stage banter between Gaga and Bennett (Bennett joked that Gaga did the tour because “she really needs the money”) to the musical selections and the big band and two (!) rhythm sections backing them, the performance had the intimacy and laid-back vibe of a vintage Vegas lounge act—even with hundreds packed into the sold-out Chelsea. You almost forgot the woman onstage is more known for her proclivity for ostentatious production value, grandiose stage sets and possibly the most flamboyant costumes in pop music history. Almost ...
Gaga might have left the meat dress at home, but she still wowed the crowd with a number of costume (and wig) changes throughout the evening. The diva opted for glittering glamour in place of the conceptual, jaw-dropping outfits she dons for her pop performances. From a dazzling, sequined, floor-length dress to a crimson feather coat that would make any showgirl jealous, Gaga served us classic sophistication with a contemporary edge. And the ever-dapper Tony Bennett remained in the same tuxedo and black tie.
Beginning with a lively performance of debut single “Anything Goes,” the setlist included duets and solo pieces off the aforementioned album, and every performance was flawless. The two stars might be decades apart in age, but they’re both at the top of their game now—and that showed, from Gaga’s powerful scale progressions from the depths of her vocal chords into falsetto to Bennett belting out the ends of his ballads. While Lady Gaga has built her career with dancey, EDM-heavy pop anthems, her voice is perfectly suited for jazz and big band standards, which is why this is a match made in “heaven.” “Firefly” and “Lush Life” were solo standouts for Mother Monster, while Bennett charmed the crowd with Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” and “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” “When he sings he has the whole room in the palms of his hands,” my guest for the evening whispered to me halfway through the concert—and she couldn’t have been more right, as the veteran crooner consistently bewitched the audience with his seasoned talent (you could hear a pin drop during the stripped-down ballads). And together, the two absolutely slayed Nat King Cole’s haunting “Nature Boy,” a performance I likely will never forget.
Sure, it seems like an odd pairing. But anyone who has heard these two true professionals sing together knows that it just works. After the duo ended the night with a fabulous rendition of “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” all I wanted was more. Unfortunately no encore followed the main set, so I guess I’ll just have to wait until the next time (fingers crossed) the icons team up on tour. After all, Gaga did say: “There’s nowhere I’d rather be than cheek to cheek with Tony Bennett … Don’t get jealous girls. Or boys!”