In a class by itself: Bette Midler‘s Roxy show year’s best pop concert
By ROBERT HILBURN
Los Angeles News Service
MONDAY, DECEMBER 26, 1977
Responding to the challenge of her first club tour in five years, the captivating singer-comedienne not only demonstrated at the Roxy that she is the queen of the cabaret circuit, but that she may very well be the most arresting American female performer since Judy Garland.
While Barbra Streisand can be spellbinding vocally, her live shows reflect little of the range of Midler’s. Liza Minnelli – another possible contender – covers much territory on stage, but she doesn’t offer the imagination or the vision.
Midler’s domination of the concert scene in ’77 represents two breakthroughs. It’s the first time since I began ranking performers in ’72 that a pop – rather than rock – figure.has won. It’s also the first time a club show has broken the arena-auditorium stranglehold.
Moving from ’72 to ’76, the past winners are: the Rolling Stones at the Inglewood Forum. Elton John at the Hollywood Bowl, Bob Dylan and the Band at the Forum, Elton John at Dodger Stadium, Bruce Springsteen at the Santa Monica Civic auditorium.
Of the concerts I saw this year, these five had the most impact:
Bette Midler at the Roxy, Dec. 8 – “Close Encounters of the Worst Kind.” That was the theme of Midler’s 10-day Roxy engagement. The show didn’t have the lavish production or stage effects of her classic Dorothy Chandler Pavilion shows of two years ago, but it had an even more frantic pace, a wanner tone and, ultimately, a bigger wallop.
There was still plenty of the old brassiness, the ribald Sophie Tucker jokes and the potshots at El Lay life-style, but it was easier than ever to see the human, evocative edges of her act. Whether dealing in tacky, gossipy asides or the unabashed looks at loneliness and other emotional states, Midler illuminates the feelings everyone shares. No one does it with more
joy and vitality.
Rod Stewart at the Inglewood Forum, Dec. 12 – Like Midler, Stewart is – above all – an entertainer. Some of Stewart’s longtime rock fans felt he stressed entertainment too “much on this, his first U.S. solo tour. They called the performances campy and condescending. Nonsense! Backed by his best band ever, Stewart’s Forum date was splendidly paced, precisely
executed and wonderfully involving. The result: the most celebrative rock package of ’77. When the 17,000 fans joined Stewart in singing the tender, closing “You’re in My Heart,” it was probably the best single concert moment of the year.
Linda Ronstadt at the Universal Amphitheater, Sept. 20 – Success doesn’t always wear well on pop performers. Sales and applause can often cause them to let their standards dip or to adopt the conservative practice of simply redoing the old hits. But Ronstadt – never hotter commercially – was never better. With her most aggressive and tasteful band, she treated each of the 19 songs in her 100-minute set as if it would be the performance by which she would ultimately be measured. From the Rolling Stones’ rowdy “Tumbling dice” to Roy Orbison‘s nostalgic “Blue Bayou,” she was ideal.
Fleetwood Mac at the Inglewood Forum, Aug. 31 – There isn’t much flash to Fleetwood’s shows, but the music is far more biting live than it is on record. There’s a harder edge to both Lindsey Buckingham’s guitar work and Mick Fleetwood’s drumming. If they ever capture the sound fully on a live LP, it should even outsell this year’s phenomenal “Rumours.” EvenÂ if the latter has got an eight million head start.
Queen at the San Diego Sports Arena, Dec. 16 – Already ranked over ELO, Genesis and Bad Company as the best of the mid-’70s British arrivals, Queen’s show this time was even more spectacularly staged and smoothly delivered than on its first four visits here. Lead singer Freddie Mercury has developed into one of pop’s most dynamic performers and Brian MayÂ is at the forefront of rock guitarists. A still maturing group that operates so well in a variety of rock modes thai it makes most of its competitors seem narrow and flat.