Books · Music

You never know who you’ll meet at Barnes and Noble

Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett sell a few books for The Man…their choice of present for each other is quite touching…

Gaga has been in London this week, presenting an award at the British Fashion Awards. Here she is coming out an offie in Camden with the bevvies. You always knew she’d be the kind to get her round in.  It looks like Kronenbourg though…

Lady Gaga Barnes and Noble Camden

The magnificent Tony from this year’s triumphant album with Bill Charlap.

Gigs · Music

Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga at The Albert Hall – But Beautiful

Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga

We got lucky and had tickets for both of the Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga shows at the Royal Albert Hall last Monday and Tuesday – then we got a bit unlucky when the second of the two was cancelled about a quarter of an hour before showtime due to Tony being unwell. However, on balance and all things considered, we got really, really extremely lucky to have witnessed Monday’s breathtaking and heartbreaking show.  Although we were in the circle of the hall (which is way up high) and had a restricted view, the power of the performers could not be diminished by any distance from them.

Bennett came onstage to a recording of his hero Frank Sinatra praising Tony Bennett (“he’ll tear the seats out…”), acknowledged the applause, then his quartet and the orchestra and introduced “the most popular singer in the world – Lady Gaga!”  A hell of an opening, but for the next two hours each of the pair lived up to the encomia.

The order of the billing was reflected in the structure of the show, which was very much a Tony Bennett show with delighted support from Lady Gaga.  The chemistry between the two is astonishing, two giants of music on the same stage, somehow adding up to way more than the sum of the parts, each awed and a little in love with the art and craft of the other.  Gaga is also extremely funny, a hard thing to pull off in music and something with which she is rarely credited.  At one point, she scampered (that is the right word) up the stairs at the side of the stalls to duet from on high (“I’m over here Tony!”) creating one of the evening’s so many beautiful moments.

Tony was in fine form, much better than any performance I’ve seen by him in the last twenty years.  He repeated the coda of “For Once In My Life” (“I have someone who needs me”) with pointed gusto, welcoming Gaga’s return to the stage after one of his solo spots; his reading of “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” concluded with, well, I don’t quite know what, some sort of emphatic repetition of the closing “the music never ends,” not quite a crescendo nor a desperate plea…I was so looking forward to being ready for it on the second night so I could listen more carefully.  I’ve never heard anything like the way he sang these few notes.

Gaga’s solos were of course stunning.  I’d have to say, Lady Gaga in a pink satin dress singing “La Vie en Rose” in French in the Albert Hall  and then getting a standing ovation must be the gayest thing I’ve ever seen.  Pretty close for camp value was her rendition of “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” in a spangly catsuit. However, as I’ve suggested, the real magic of the evening was in the couple’s duets.  Their rendition of Burke and Van Heusen’s “But Beautiful” was well, beautiful, Gaga leaning on the piano next to Tony as they stood, rapt, watching Gray Sargent take his guitar solo, love swirling around the stage and through the hall.

The evening concluded with numerous bows after the closing number (none of that encore nonsense, they’d given it all already,) and we left walking on air and amazed at what had happened on the venerable stage that night.

We had better tickets for the second night, but that was not to be; although it was a savage disappointment that the show was cancelled, it was a relief to learn a few hours later that Tony’s health issue was not too serious.  (It was also a relief that we’d not just bought fresh drinks at the Albert Hall’s prices…)

But we’d had a little bonus earlier that evening.  Having arrived at the hall early to view its extensive display of photographs of previous performers, we wandered alone and were delighted to hear Gaga  rehearsing “La Vie en Rose,” noting that she was by no means walking through it, this was a proper performance.  She finished the song, they ran through one line again until everyone was happy, then the band and orchestra rehearsed some outros a few times.  I guess it shows that even as late as 6:30, the show was still going to go ahead.

A different sort of show went ahead for her, apparently she did a half-hour set at Ronnie Scott’s later that evening.

Lady Gaga leaving Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club

Tony and Gaga cannot be estimated highly enough for what they have done with this music and its presentation to a new audience.  The Cheek to Cheek album is the embodiment of this and a remains a wonderful thing for them to have given the world.

Prince Harry, Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett


Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga – Cheek to Cheek


Tony Bennett Lady Gaga cheek to cheek


23 September saw the US release of Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga’s joint album Cheek to Cheek, neatly alluded to in the newspaper mock-up cover of the standard version of the CD…(you can just about see it in the picture above.)  Records are still released on Tuesdays in the US, so we were able to buy it a day earlier in the UK, which was blessed succour after the psychic and spiritual kickings meted out before and after the Scottish Independence referendum.
Gaga had been dropping many photos of her with Tony Bennett, apparently in recording studios, on to Facebook for weeks ahead of the announcement of the joint album, so it was clear something was afoot; she had also guested on Bennett’s second Duets album in 2011; and Bennett had been in print airing his extremely high opinions of Gaga’s work.
So the release of a whole album of duets (well nearly, each singer has a couple of solo turns) was not entirely a surprise; what may have been a surprise to some is the almost complete success of the venture.
Backed by the Tony Bennett Quartet throughout (with additional strings and brass on many tracks,) Bennett and Gaga jointly and severally assay eighteen gems from what is now clichedly known as The Great American Songbook. So far, so yawn, everybody’s been at it…however, the singers are clearly energising each other so much that the album far transcends the tired genre exercise it could have been, and as so many are…loosen that tie, stand in front of that vintage mike. Allow Us to be Be Frank asked Boyzone; We Are Going to be Brutally Frank would have been nearer the mark.
Anyway, back to Tone and Steph…neither of these wonderful artists is in need of a career revival or fillip, so this album is truly a meeting of minds on a common ground. Mr Bennett is sensational and giving it “the big one” throughout, but especially on “I Won’t Dance,” where he sounds to me to be paying tribute to Sinatra’s definitive reading while Gaga grounds the track by following the melody more closely; and on the eternally silly “Goody Goody,” where he’s having a ball against Gaga’s “Noo Yoik gal” spoken comments. There’s a lot of love going on there.
Gaga shines brightest on the albums beautiful Ellingtonian centrepiece, a pairing of her singing “Lush Life” alone, followed by Bennett’s solo of “Sophisticated Lady.” She’s also set to stun on the live recording of “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” near the end of the album.

Lady Gaga Tony Bennett cheek to cheek again

A breath of air. Nobody trying to prove anything, just two musicians having a ball. Cheek to cheek.