- This is good. This is strong. This is courageous.
- This is not epic, not a trend, not a blueprint.
- This is Gaga … with a little help from friends.
Lady Gaga delivered an installment of her “Jazz and Piano” show at Park MGM on the Las Vegas Strip on Sunday, June 9, 2019. For well over two hours, Lady entertained the packed audience and entertained the idea that she could, as she explained from the stage, “carry her own torch” to bring this style of music into the 21st-century limelight. Did she succeed?
The production is excellent. Song after song showed her heart and voice were totally committed. The thirty-piece band accompanied with aplomb. A quintet of instrumental extras was featured. The presence of a Rushmore-esque guest overshadowed the star during two duets.
No backup vocals were needed “20 feet from” Lady’s star presence. Her costumes delivered entertainment of their own. The long playlist was highly regarded. Gaga pop songs made sporadic appearances. Recorded videos played during costume changes addressed the strong feelings the artist has for the music of the night.
Site logistics rarely make the show better (Red Rocks in Colorado is an exception); they can ruin the night, but not this night. The Park MGM venue is comfortable, right-sized at around 6,000 seats, and separate from the MGM Grand green monster on the opposite side of the Strip. While casino-based, it is far more accessible than Caesar’s venue for Celine and not entrenched deeply into a maze of slot machines and gaming tables like some Sin City stages. Entry security and concession stands were efficient. Ushers held helpful locations in the doorways and the aisles.
One should already know this performer is not a songbird trilling, but a siren thrilling. From “Luck Be a Lady” (a good start in Las Vegas) all the way to “New York, New York” (be it ever so humble for Gaga), she belted oft-recognized tunes. Each song was introduced to be sure the crowd knew names that were less familiar.
Over-amped audio affected the first few songs. By “Orange Colored Sky” the show began hitting stride. “Poker Face” was the first of a few to be accompanied by story-telling of a personal nature. The standouts for me were “Somebody to Watch Over Me,” “Please Don’t Let Me By Misunderstood,” and “Bad Romance.” Rocketing to the top of the set list was “Fly Me to the Moon” for the person sharing with me the journey through this night and this life.
On the other side of the scale was “Paparazzi,” which did not seem meant to be slowed down and fit into a “jazz” envelope. The very French “La Vie en Rose” was oddly situated after a dissertation about “The Great American Songbook,” which left me in a discombobulated state that continued through “Lush Life,” a wordy, hard-to-follow lyrical journey for someone not previously versed in those verses.
What are the odds that a Gaga pop song translates to Gaga jazz in Las Vegas? About fifty-fifty, or two in four. “Poker Face” was good; “Bad Romance” was excellent; “Born This Way” and “Paparazzi” bluffed their way into the mix.
What are the chances I would share Gaga’s interest in two songs I associate with Cher? Surprisingly good on this night. “Bang Bang” didn’t shoot itself in the footlights, and “Misunderstood” was among the big winners.
An earlier mention invoked the name Rushmore, though as yet Las Vegas has not built a replica. This night’s Rushmore-esque presence was in the person of Tony Bennett, 92 and crooning with the skill of someone literally half that age.
Tony joined Gaga on stage for “Cheek to Cheek” followed by “The Lady is a Tramp.” The crowd’s warm reception for this man raised the theater thermometer by degrees as the amazed, admiring, in awe audience gushed forth love to match that expressed by Lady Gaga.
“Lady Gaga: Jazz and Piano” is the show’s moniker; Gaga first, jazz second, piano third. I felt shortchanged by the very limited time our hostess journeyed stage right to the bright white piano bench. A jazz concert from a pop artist is rare; a piano concert from a pop-jazz artist would be a great treat.
Lady Gaga chose to use her hands only to play those songs by her own hand, as best I can recall. The piano was otherwise just another instrument in the vast toolkit on stage, not the featured attraction seemingly promised by the title line. Alas.
What about “jazz.” What is it? It’s American. It’s unique. It’s classic. It’s alive. But … what IS it? To some it is improvisation. To some it is club music. To some it is instrumental. To me it is not “big band” like on this MGM stage. To me it isn’t slowing the beat and softening the voice to deliver a pop song.
But what do I know? Lady Gaga stated a position that jazz can be bent, turned, and molded in ways of the artist’s choosing, and tonight everything was on her terms. If one agrees to those terms, few disappointments could be cataloged. If one does not, questions could be raised.
Was this entirely “jazz?” Was there enough piano? Would fewer instruments have favorably created a more intimate sound? Was it valid to add her pop songs to the show? Should they have been altered or left in a format true to their hit sound?
The answer to each question is simply that Lady Gaga was confidently in command. The night faded to black with the classic “New York, New York,” but the ‘frank’ indication of the monumental evening was clear: the concept, the choices, the beginning, the ending, and every other aspect was, in the head of the Haus of Gaga, “My Way.” … I’m in tune with that.
Attended June 9, 2019, Las Vegas, Nevada
The Setlist; Lady Gaga Jazz and Piano, Park MGM Las Vegas
Sunday, June 9, 2019:
- Luck Be a Lady
- Anything Goes
- Call Me Irresponsible
- Orange Colored Sky
- Poker Face
- Cheek to Cheek
- The Lady is a Tramp
- I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby
- Someone to Watch Over Me
- Born This Way
- Bang, Bang, My Baby Shot Me Down
- What a Difference a Day Made
- Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood
- La Vie en Rose
- Just a Gigolo
- Lush Life
- Bad Romance
- Fly Me to the Moon
- New York, New York