This week, Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett reunited to play a pair of shows at New York’s Radio City Music Hall. The two-night stand marked Bennett’s 95th birthday—and what is likely his final onstage performance. The legendary singer was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2016, and the Radio City concerts were billed as the “last NYC performances of his career.”
But Bennett is going out in style. He and Gaga are releasing their second album of jazz standards in October, and according those who saw them, this week’s performances were “magical.” Press was banned from both gigs and fans had to surrender their phones at the door. Luckily, my buddy Robert, a Manhattan-based musician, was one of those lucky enough to score a ticket. He was at Radio City for the final of the two nights, so of course I had to pump him for the details.
So, how was the show?
Magical. People have asked me all day how the show was, and it was like…magic! My four sentence review has been: Lady Gaga was on point, at the height of her power, relaxed and fun and sounded amazing. The room was…everybody was there to party. The highlight for me was that she sang “New York, New York” right before Tony Bennett came out in, like, a top hat. And the crowd was singing along and there were spotlights going around. It was like, Oh, this is why I pay all this money to live in New York City. I get to go do this on a Thursday night.
What was the ratio of Gaga to Bennett?
It was mainly Lady Gaga—you know, they took our phones away and locked them away like Madonna. So, it was hard to have any sense of time. But she performed for what felt like over an hour. And she actually made a joke, she was like, “I know you’re wondering where Tony Bennett is and you’ve been wondering that for the last 30 minutes…” And then she sang the last song and Tony came out. He actually did, like, eight songs that were shortened versions of his songs. And then they did a couple duets at the end
Was it all standards or did Gaga do jazz versions of her songs?
All standards. She didn’t do any Gaga numbers that had been jazz-ified. They were all American Songbook. But she brings her point of view to all of her interpretations of the American Songbook. It’s very much Lady Gaga singing jazz standards with an unbelievable orchestra jazz band.
What was she wearing?
So, her first outfit was a floor-length white and silver spangled, I think strapless, dress with a huge feather boa that she used to great effect for the entire first segment and ended up almost shredding at the end. Her second outfit was a tea-length kind of Christian Dior silhouette, very, very shiny, plastic-looking black dress. Off the shoulder, with white trim at the bottom. She had her hair in that up blonde ’do the whole time. And her last outfit was floor-length gold lame with a three-quarter-length gold lame cape that she twirled and twirled and twirled. With shiny gold pumps.
How did Tony Bennett seem?
Uh… He seemed diminished from age. He moved slowly, but he also seemed… What I know about Alzheimer’s is that the music in you is the last to go. Because music inhabits a different part of your brain than, like, words or driving. And so, the songs that he sang solo, every word was there. And he sang a bunch of high notes and got most of them. And there were times that that timbre that made him so famous was perfectly there. And you were like, Oh my god, I wish that I could do this when I’m 95! He seemed really grateful. He seemed like he was soaking it in.
And he seemed like he knew what was going on, where he was?
Absolutely. I mean, he didn’t do a lot of banter, obviously. He just ended every song with, “Wow. Thank you. Beautiful.” And it really wasn’t until the end, when Gaga was escorting him off the stage, that you had any inkling that this was a diminished performer, that he was suffering from Alzheimer’s, really.
What was that like?
It was really beautiful and it was really poignant. They had all taken their bows. And Tony did two encores. And Gaga came out and sang him “Happy Birthday.” Then—you know how Gaga can be very self-consciously…genuine? So, she did that genuine Gaga thing where she’s being genuine—and she really is being genuine, but it’s so determinedly genuine. And she really pointed out that this is Tony’s last time singing in public. This is Tony’s last time leaving the stage as a performer. And she said something like, “Mr. Bennett, it would be my honor to escort you off the stage.” And she literally kissed his hand and held his arm as they walked stage right. It didn’t really occur to me until then that I was watching Tony Bennett’s last show. I just saw Tony Bennett sing the last song of his career, and watched Lady Gaga walk him off the stage for the last time. Major!
Were there any mishaps or indications that he wasn’t quite there?
I think that they had planned it really respectfully and really well. I think he maybe…One of the wordier songs they sing, he forgot one line, and it was kinda clear that he forgot, but he scatted his way through it. But that was it.
Like, did they blend the way they blended on their last tour? Not really, but he’s 95 years old. A lot of that nice harmonization that they were able to do on the last tour just couldn’t happen because Tony doesn’t have the ability that he used to because of his age.
How would you describe your relationship to Lady Gaga’s music? Like, were you there for Lady Gaga or were you there because it was Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett?
I would probably have not gone if it had just been Lady Gaga. I have a very deep relationship with Lady Gaga and I’ve remixed a lot of her stuff. For gay people, I came kind of late to her, because I didn’t really get on the bandwagon until Art Pop. But since Art Pop, I’ve just defended everything she’s done—including Joanne. But I can’t say that I would have seen it as such a monumental, once-in-a-lifetime event if it hadn’t also been Tony Bennette’s birthday and last show.
Was it hard to get a ticket? I mean, it seems like it should have been impossible.
It was a hard ticket to get! I was on Ticketmaster right when they went on sale and I didn’t like the options that were available on Ticketmaster. So, I went on StubHub, because you know how it is. And I was able to get tickets on StubHub for the same price that Ticketmaster was selling them, but they were better tickets. Which is infuriating. But it was sold out, packed to the rafters.
I assume they required everyone to be vaccinated.
They did check vaccination cards. But it was sold out to capacity. Nobody was in a mask, which I didn’t appreciate. I wore a mask. We made the joke, like, “Do you think that Tony Bennett every thought that his last show would have this many gay people at it?” We were joking that Tony Bennett was backstage asking, “What does ‘Yasss’ mean? They were all shouting ‘Yasss’ at me! Why did so many of them have fans they were clacking?”
You could tell who was there for Tony and you could definitely tell who was there for Gaga. But it gave it that, like, New York happening, very exciting feeling. I dressed up for me, but people were there in tuxedos and formalwear. Full drag—like formal full drag.
I assume the show was being filmed.
It was filmed. Yeah, you could see that they were professionally filming it. I’m praying they release it for, like, Great Performances or something.