He Said/She Said: Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga

Sell-out lacked only Amy Winehouse

He Said/She Said: Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga

Pop music’s enduring statesman, Tony Bennett, with 88 rings on his trunk, and the genre’s 29-year-old usurper, Lady Gaga, make an unlikely pairing to be sure. Thursday at a packed Moody Theater, the duo debuted their summer tour, turning September’s Grammy-winning collaboration Cheek to Cheek into a clash of old-world class and new-school melodrama.

Bennett sauntered onstage first just before 8:30pm, introducing “the most popular artist in the world right now,” who then appeared in a Forties-style gown of pale pink. Opening Vegas style – lights, glitz, production gloss – “Anything Goes” lacked only the sound of slot machines. Gaga blew air kisses.

“You’re looking good tonight, Austin,” she flirted.

Having first melded minds on Bennett’s star-studded Duets II in 2011 with a raunchy rendition of “The Lady Is a Tramp,” the two remained connected over the next four years – professionally and personally. Where guest spots by Andrea Bocelli and Aretha Franklin matched the jazz legend in gravitas and ability, Gaga’s enthusiasm and irreverence warranted Cheek to Cheek and its subsequent tour sprint. Odd couple? Bennett’s always had a weakness for leading ladies who make a living straddling the line between music and theatre.

Backed by his quartet and her Brian Newman Quintet, each group receding into the shadows when their employer wasn’t the focus, the singers alternated between solitary interludes and full-throated duets for nearly two hours, presumably to facilitate breaks for Bennett and a half-dozen costume changes for Gaga. George Gershwin’s “They All Laughed” made the LP. The two sparked a brushfire with the accompanying chortles.

Catching her breath after an earthy version of “Bang Bang,” Gaga looked positively triumphant. The gauntlet had been thrown. Cher, your move. Yet even delivering coy stage banter, the firebrand couldn’t fully shake the jitters.

“We all have stress in our lives,” she acknowledged at one point, “but I have to follow Tony Bennett seven times during this show.”

Those logistics worked against her. Under a single spotlight, Bennett belted Stevie Wonder classic “For Once in My Life,” carrying the final note until he lost his breath. In the face of that kind of understated elegance, Gaga’s high-octane shuffle began to feel forced. On Ella Fitzgerald’s “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered,” she faded in and out of an uneven imitation.

He toasted Frank Sinatra (“World on a String”), she name-checked Judy Garland (“Smile”). The former raised his fist into the air at the culmination of “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” then the latter rejoined him for “Lady Is a Tramp.” In those moments, before electrified closer “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)," the true highlight of Duets II came to mind.

“Body and Soul,” featuring Londoner Amy Winehouse, made imitators (Michael Bublé) look especially grotesque. The late diva – warned by her father not to mess up his favorite standard – matched Bennett’s croon with her whiskey contralto. It remains a transcendent snapshot of what might have been had she lived long enough to see the album hit shelves.

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Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Stevie Wonder, Duke Ellington, Cher, Andrea Bocelli, Aretha Franklin, Judy Garland, Michael, Bublé, Amy Winehouse

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