Jake’s Take’s Concert Reviews: Branden + James (2021)

Branden + James returned to NYC to showcase their interpretation of The Lady Gaga Songbook. (Photo property of Ashlee Werter, Nomad Family Photo Group)

By: Jacob Elyachar, jakes-take.com

For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic turned the world upside down, I went to see live music. My dear friends, Branden + James, returned to New York City with their new show: The Lady Gaga Songbook. 

Setting the Stage

Branden + James’ first post-COVID-pandemic show took place at the Green Room 42. Masked guests were seated at either a socially distanced table or booth with their parties as various songs such as ABBA’s “Super Trouper” and Hall & Oates’s “Maneater” played. I noticed about the room that there were luxurious purple velvet curtains that adorned the stage, along with a mini-grand piano.

On With the Show

Branden + James made their entrance after a montage of Lady Gaga’s top fashion and pop culture moments. As they began to perform their opening medley of Mother Monster’s top hits that included “Born This Way,” “Bad Romance,” and “Poker Face.” It was very comforting to hear Branden’s voice and James’ cello for the first time in over two years.  

The duo began working on the show in February 2020, and Little Monsters would appreciate the work that Branden + James put into the show. They included several facts of the Golden Globe, Grammy, and Oscar-winning performer, including a rumor that Broadway World reported that Lady Gaga would star as Fanny Brice in a Funny Girl revival.

The Lady Gaga Songbook contained beautiful moments such as their haunting renditions of “Million Reasons,” “Angel Down”/”Always Remember Us This Way,” and “Speechless”/”Canon in D.” Also, there were memorable moments that let Branden + James flex their talent. Branden’s voice shined when he sang “Angel Down,” “La Vie En Rose,” and “Million Reasons.” James stole the show during the duo’s A Star is Born medley when he played the piano for two of the songs and rocked the cello during “Americano.” 

A Cover Show

In addition to Gaga, Branden + James highlighted the history of musicals and pop culture figures associated with Mother Monster. The duo revisited “Cheek to Cheek,” the title track to Gaga’s iconic album with jazz legend Tony Bennett. They also paired the Oscar-winning “Shallow” with “The Man That Got Away” (from the 1954 film version starring Judy Garland) and the Oscar-winning “Evergreen” (the love theme from the 1976 film version starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson). 

Branden + James also paid tribute to some of Lady Gaga’s heroes, including Sir Elton John and the late David Bowie, with a mash-up of “Rocketman” and “Space Oddity.” They also paid homage to the legendary Freddie Mercury with a robust cover of “Who Wants to Live Forever” and revisited Lady Gaga’s show-stealing tribute at the 2015 Oscars of The Sound of Music that received high praise from Dame Julie Andrews herself.  

The duo surprised the audience by bringing up a special guest who they met during their Puerto Vallarta, Mexico residency: Seth Sikes. Sikes, who recently performed in Liza Minnelli’s virtual 75th birthday celebration, specializes in the Great American Songbook. The trio performed “Stormy Weather,” and I loved Branden and Seth’s harmonies, and his tone contained hints of Judy Garland and Lena Horne.  

Final Thoughts and Grade: Branden + James brilliantly showcased Lady Gaga’s legacy in The Lady Gaga Songbook. It was a superbly produced show that audiences would enjoy tremendously.  A- 

Set List:

  1. Lady Gaga Medley (“Born This Way,” “Bad Romance,” “Poker Face,” “Paparazzi,” & “Love Game”)
  2. “Million Reasons”
  3. “Cheek to Cheek” / “La Vie En Rose”
  4. A Star is Born Trilogy (“The Man That Got Away”/”Evergreen”/”Shallow”)
  5. “Speechless”/”Canon in D” (Lady Gaga/Palchebel)
  6. “Angel Down”/”Always Remember Us This Way”
  7. “Rocketman”/”Space Oddity” (Elton John/David Bowie)
  8. “Who Wants to Live Forever” (Queen)
  9. “Stormy Weather” with special guest Seth Sikes
  10. “Americano”
  11. “Poker Face”
  12. Sound of Music Medley (Rodgers & Hammerstein)
  13.  “Hallelujah” (encore)

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Copyright 2020 Jacob Elyachar