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September 19, 2019

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Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga swing across the ages at the Cosmopolitan

Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett

Ethan Miller / Getty Images

Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett perform classic jazz standards from their album “Cheek to Cheek” at the Chelsea on Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014, in the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.

Lady Gaga, Tony Bennett at Chelsea

Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett perform classic jazz standards from their album “Cheek to Cheek” at the Chelsea on Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014, in the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

Tony Bennett strides across the stage in a delicate way, his shoulders slightly hunched and his face pinched as if he’s squinting through cigar smoke in an old saloon.

For a moment, you have to wonder if he’s still got it. Is he still great, or has he become a figure from an era long passed?

Then Bennett sings, really sings, at times so forcefully that in the rows closest to the stage, you can hear that voice outside the microphone. When he takes it to a whisper, he feels as if he’s right in your ear.

“How do you keep the music playing? How do you make it last?” Bennett sings to the audience, in a voice warm and familiar and timeless. “How do you keep a song from fading too fast?”

How do you do that? By continuing to sing it, with a slight tilt of the head and sweeping motion of the hand. The song is “The Music Never Ends,” and at the end of the number, Bennett drops the crooning and opens up with the grand finish: “With any luck, then I suppose, the music never dies!” He climbs the ladder with those last two words, hitting every note in a single breath. By the end of that song, the audience is in full roar.

The guy still has it, if those chills on the back of your neck can be trusted.

It was the 88-year-old Bennett and his far younger kindred spirit, Lady Gaga, who held a sold-out crowd rapt at the Chelsea in the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas on Tuesday night. It was the first of two shows ushering in the New Year at the Cosmopolitan, and though it evoked nostalgia, it was not a true nostalgia act. The presence of Gaga, currently one of pop music’s hottest properties, gave the night a contemporary flair. Her eight costume changes — I believe that count is right — kept the show visually dazzling. So did the crystal-encrusted curtain hanging high above the stage.

Gaga was appropriately reverential. When Bennett called over to her as she wore a slithery, silver-sequined gown, “You’re beautiful!” she called back, “No, you’re beautiful!” The 28-year-old artist, whose concert tours are an exercise in staging excess, brought it down several levels for a show steeped in jazz standards. Before uncorking “Anything Goes,” she lectured the audience, “Do you know Cole Porter? If you don’t, you should.”

In obtuse fashion, Gaga also praised the backing orchestra, a horn-driven, 21-piece ensemble, by saying, “It’s nice for me to be working with great musicians for a change.” Maybe she is growing weary of dance tracks. It was an interesting remark, regardless.

Bennett chipped in some brevity, too, mentioning the collaboration “Cheek to Cheek,” which the duo released in the fall. “We just made an album together, and it’s moving up the charts. Buy it because she needs the money.”

The two were playful throughout, as Bennett followed his singing partner while holding her crystal cape so it wouldn’t drag along the stage. The two swapped lines, often actually cheek-to-cheek, for the song of that title and such great numbers as “They All Laughed,” “Nature Boy,” “I Won’t Dance” and “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.” Singing alone, Bennett brought out a snippet of the crowd-pleasing “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” “Sophisticated Lady” and “Sing You Sinners.” Left on her own, Gaga sang “Bang Bang,” “Firefly” and “Lush Life.”

At the end, the two belted out the medley of “Luck Be a Lady” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t Got That Swing).” They stood together, accepting the adoration of the standing crowd, waved and walked off. There were a few moments, as the musicians held their stations, where the audience wondered if there would be an encore.

There wasn’t. What would be the point? Nobody, not even Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga themselves, could follow this act.

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