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Concert Preview
Need your spirits lifted? Bette’s coming, and she’s bringing the brass
By Patrick MacDonald
Seattle Times music critic

Bette Midler’s coming to town, and she’s right on time.

The primaries, the economy, the war, the weather — we need a break, and Bette’s the one to give it to us. We need some fun, some dirty jokes, some silly songs. We need romance. We need to feel good again.

And her “Kiss My Brass” tour sounds like just the ticket — a high-priced ticket, to be sure, but probably worth it.

The tour name comes from — you probably guessed this — the fact that she has a brass section this time around, mostly recruited from the Royal Crown Revue, a young Canadian swing band. Now she can do “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” with real bugle music.

Concert preview

Bette Midler, 8 p.m. Tuesday, KeyArena, Seattle Center, Seattle; $39.50-$150 (206-628-0888, www.ticketmaster.com or www.cc.com; information: 206-684-7200 or www.seattlecenter.com).

The show is said to be her biggest, and most expensive, ever.

The setting is Luna Park, a seaside amusement park of the mind modeled on turn-of-the-century Coney Island. It includes a working carousel, a boardwalk, colorful sideshow tents, beach houses, beach balls and, of course, a beach. The staging also includes a couple of giant video screens, which show the stage action up close and, during costume changes, short, comic films Midler had made for the show.

Just like we do, Midler needs to feel good again, too. This is her first tour since her disastrous 2000 CBS sitcom, “Bette,” which was quickly canceled. She was also dropped by Atlantic Records, after recording 16 hit albums for the label.

She’s already gotten revenge for the Atlantic snub with “Bette Midler Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook,” recorded with old pal Barry Manilow in a one-off deal with Columbia Records. The Grammy-nominated CD has been so successful, Columbia wants a follow-up and is considering a long-term contract.

Midler told Rolling Stone that “Kiss My Brass” is a “kitchen-sink show,” meaning that her most popular bits are reprised. So we’ll get Delores Delago — the wacky gal riding a motorized wheelchair, because she can’t walk in her mermaid costume — her foul-mouthed Sophie Tucker imitation (talk about brassy!) and lots of sassy interplay with the three Harlettes, her saucy backup singers.

And, of course, there will be all those great songs, such as “From A Distance,” “Wind Beneath My Wings,” “The Rose” and “Friends.”

Midler plays around the world, but probably has bittersweet memories when she comes to Seattle. One of her first big breaks came in 1971, when she starred in the first theatrical production of The Who’s “Tommy,” staged by Seattle Opera. It played for two-and-a-half weeks at the Moore.

“It was a nightmare to do that show,” she later recalled. “Who knew it would be so horrible?”

Things did not go well when she opened a national tour here in 1978 at the Paramount. As documented by a whole, hilarious chapter in her book, “A View From A Broad,” the night was a disaster. A series of events — including one of the chorus boys sewing his shoes onto a shower curtain (too complicated a tale to go into here) — made the show start 90 minutes late, with the audience having to wait most of that time outside in the cold. Her band was under-rehearsed. A light buzzed loudly throughout the concert, ruining the quieter numbers. She apologized at the end.

“I’ll tell you the truth: I’m very tired,” she said. “I didn’t deserve what you gave me tonight (a standing ovation). And I know it. I thank you for being so kind.”

Her other shows here — in the 1980s and ’90s at the Paramount, Tacoma Dome and KeyArena — were triumphant. This will be her first show here in five years.

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