Here's something I didn't expect the Grammy Awards to make me say: I wish I'd caught Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett's post-ceremony gig at the Wiltern on Sunday night.
Five months ago, when these two released their "Cheek to Cheek" album, I'd have dreaded seeing them do anything onstage together. The record is terrible, perhaps 2014's worst, with frightfully dull renditions of standards like "Anything Goes" and "I Won't Dance" that illuminate nothing beyond Lady Gaga's desperate bid for respect after the perceived failure of her previous record, "Artpop."
FULL COVERAGE: Grammy Awards 2015
As I wrote at the time (and still believe), "Cheek to Cheek" is pure exploitation, not only of Bennett's reputation but of our faith in Gaga's much-trumpeted commitment to artistic expression. An appealingly perverse idea on paper, the Gaga-Bennett pairing turned out in reality to be a cynical bait-and-switch.
But something evidently happened between then and Sunday night, because on the Grammys stage — where they performed not long after beating Barbra Streisand for the traditional pop vocal album prize — the singers put more energy into a performance of their album's Irving Berlin-penned title track than they did into the entirety of "Cheek to Cheek."
Were we simply seeing the animating effect of a live audience? Yeah, sure. That's partly why, elsewhere in Sunday's show, Annie Lennox did "I Put a Spell on You" with so much more intensity than she does on her recent standards album, "Nostalgia."
More important, though, Gaga appeared finally to have found room for herself in this music. Spilling out of a low-cut jeweled gown, she was lusty and funny — delightfully vulgar, really — in a way that wasn't so different from the infamous vomit-splashed performance she gave last year at the South by Southwest music festival.
She sounded great too, harmonizing easily with Bennett over the sturdy swing of a four-piece jazz combo. But the quality of her vocal was secondary to the newfound (or rediscovered) confidence she was putting across — a dramatic shift from "Cheek to Cheek," where the overriding sensation was fear.
At Grammy rehearsals last week, Bennett told my colleague Randy Lewis that he and Gaga are preparing to record a second album together, this one with songs by Cole Porter, whose work can happily withstand even more vulgarity than Berlin's.
After Sunday's surprising display — and whatever I sadly missed at the Wiltern — I'm excited to hear it.