The Divine Miss M. peddles her sass
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
By Jeff Spevak
Staff music critic
Photo: BaltoBoy Steve
(March 10, 2004) — BUFFALO — What’s a Bette Midler concert like, innocent readers may ask? It’s like last year’s Cher tour, only with less-expensive toys and larger breasts.
The raunchy, colorful Midler is less vocalist than amusement-park ride. She drew 10,000 to Buffalo’s HSBC Arena on Tuesday night, most of whom seemed genuinely accepting of the fact that Midler is billed a singer, but is actually a multi-tasking entertainer and social critic. You can assume this older audience skews toward George W. Bush and against gay marriage. But to walk out the door with a smile, they would have to take some campily draped sass from the 58-year-old Divine Miss M.
Barely three minutes into the show, Midler turned to her well-known potty mouth to admonish the Bush administration in general, and revel in her role as a gay icon. “Buffalo, the Queen City!” Midler crowed. “If I don’t do well here, who does?”
Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Janet Jackson did not escape her mirth. “Did you see that piercing?” Midler said of Jackson’s Super Bowl exposure. ”I thought it was a door knocker.” It was, of course, merely a set-up for a joke about anatomically correct entryway enhancements.
“I opened the door,” Midler said of her baby-faced peers, “for trashy singers with bad taste and big (female anatomy deleted).”
Speaking of enhancements, Midler is none too pleased with the sexual content of her e-mail spam. The 21st century in general seems to be letting her down. “What can you say when Monica Lewinsky’s show is not canceled, but mine is?” she wailed about her recent short-lived TV experiment.
Musically, Midler’s “Kiss My Brass” tour is carried along by a pugnacious band that included a five-piece brass section and Midler’s usual sidekicks, three flashy backup singers known as “the Harlettes.” Her stage set was a Coney Island boardwalk, with Midler making her entrance astride a flying carousel horse that gently glided in on cables from behind the stage.
Did we forget to mention that Midler can sing? Mainstream favorites like “I’m Sorry,” “When a Man Loves a Woman” and “You Gotta Have Friends” were vampy camp in her hands, although “Come-On a My House” and “Tenderly” were appropriate tributes to Rosemary Clooney. Tom Waits’ “Shiver Me Timbers” was elegantly beautiful.
But always, comedy was lurking. One of her older songs, the piano ballad “Skylark,” dates to her second album, back to the distant ‘70s. “Oh my God!” Midler bellowed after falling to the stage in dismay. “All I remember is everybody had an avocado appliance.”
But the trash-talking vaudevillian saved her harshest comments for the right that took a wrong turn. Rush Limbaugh, it’s your drug-addled moment beneath Midler’s withering wit. “All these years he’s been telling us how to think and behave,” she said, winding up to deliver a wicked pun: “And it appears he may not have been in his right mind.”