KMB REview: GlenDale Gets It!


Photo: Blair Bunting

Randy Cordova
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 12, 2004 09:15 PM

“I have returned,” Bette Midler crowed at the start of her concert on Thursday night. “I’m fabulous, and don’t I look it.”

Yes, she did look mighty fabulous at the new Glendale Arena, a tiny blonde with a mass of Shirley Temple curls and a small waist. More importantly, the 58-year-old was fab – or divine, as her debut album accurately dubbed her 32 years ago.

No one else in music today — sorry, Cher — can come up with such an over-the-the-top spectacle that is alternately campy, kitschy, bawdy, sentimental and defiant. Sometimes, it was all of those elements at the same time.

Set on an enormous stage with a Coney Island theme, Midler’s offbeat good humor was evident the instant she appeared, descending from a carousel horse suspended high above the stage. She opened with a giddy novelty tune, “Kiss My Brass,” that showcased her powerful five-man horn section. Then she moved to such full-tilt jazz numbers as “Big Noise From Winnetka” and “Stuff Like That There,” a track from her flop “For the Boys” film.

After that wham-bam opening, there was no stopping Midler, who simply flew through the evening blending her R-rated humor and amazingly diverse voice. The former got plenty of a workout as she pulled out gags aimed directly at the Valley market. “Apache Junction, show me your mullets,” she commanded, to the delight of the crowd of more than 14,000.

Other bits included a riotous 25-minute segment tracing the Broadway bow of Delores Delago, Midler’s wheelchair-bound mermaid who sang a showstopping “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going.”

As for the voice, the singer seems to be one of those performers whose vocal ability gets deeper with age. When she sang “Skylark” accompanied only by a piano, the weathering in her voice added a melancholy edge to the tune that’s not present on her recorded version from 1973. Equally moving was a wistful take on Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” and a sweet version of Tom Waits’ “Shiver Me Timbers.”

A tribute to Rosemary Clooney was a nice bit of nostalgia, with black-and-white images of the late singer backing Midler, who offered “Hey There” and “Come-on-a-my-House.” Midler is truly gifted in that she’s able to adapt her vocal style to almost any kind of music. She sang those chestnuts like a ’50s chanteuse, then offered a down-and-dirty, full-throated take on “When a Man Loves a Woman.” That earned an early standing ovation from the crowd.

If it sounds a bit schizophrenic musically, it wasn’t. Midler’s warm personality ties everything together wonderfully well. She seems to be loving every minute on stage, with her trio of backing singers (still dubbed the Harlettes), outrageous costumes and intricate choreography.

It’s a great big show, which isn’t that uncommon these days. But it is has a great big heart to it, and that is rare.

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