BY BEVERLY RYAN
March 3, 1973
Bette’s reappearance was almost worth the wait. She wore a slinky silver vamp dress, so tight that her steps minced as she ran from mike to piano, and an oversized rose that kept falling to the floor as she hook her shoulders. From far back where we sat, she was beautiful; maybe that’s the way she wants it â€” a “Delta Dawn
” in he flesh.
The second half was more attuned to the audience. The pace was faster, with upempo old rock songs that threatened toÂ run away from the whole band. It is hard to re-create an oldie for a crowd that loves oldies; the original is so rooted in our psyches that any imitation seems cheap.
Bette has her moments with them, although her voice disintegrates to screams and atonal noise when she gets carried away.
And the peculiar habit of her song endings points out her differences from usual rock concert fare: a song would end, aÂ pause ensue for several moments, and then at the urge of the applause, she would pick up the last measures again, singing them exactly as she had before, performing the same gyrations and traveling the stage in exactly the same way she had.
It was reminiscent of a rehearsed musical, perhaps the remnants of her “Fiddler on Ihe Roof” training. A rock virtuoso would have built the endings each time, changing the phrasing and speed to reach some sort of climax. Bette’s climaxes all seem anti-climactical.
Perhaps the high point of the concert was her quick semi-strip. That binding silver skirt was ripped away to revealÂ black pedal pushers, and the top cut to minimal sparkling coverage. Then Bette really let loose, balanced precariously on her spike heels, tottering back and forth on the stage, leaping and flailing in limbo-like raptures, tossing her head and shaking her behind at us provocatively. It was unexpected and It released some of the tension that was building through the high-paced second half; the crowd went away pleased after her suicidally-fast “Leader of theÂ Pack.”
YOU CAN NOT SAY that The Divine Miss M
is a disappointment on stage, even after reading in the gospel pages of “Rolling Stone” that a comedy-writer produces her ‘ad-libs’ and that each concert is a mimeograph copy of the next.
There is the vibrant feeling of Joplin, perhaps for the first time since Joplin’s death, but with a command of the performance that reflects the maturity of that old Fillmore East concert-going crowd. We are ready to appreciate well-tempered blues (didn’t Diana Ross prove that to us in “Lady Sings the Blues
“?) We will accept Duke Ellington and Count Basie as geniuses alongside Bob Dylan and George Harrison
. We watch Fred Astaire
movies on the late show and we no longer enjoy sitting in mud and rain to hear our music.
So perhaps Bette Midler
is teaching us a thing or two about music; perhaps she realized that no one would listen unless she caught eyes and ears a” la Alice Cooper
. Perhaps in time she will drop the Andy Warhol poses and become another TVÂ variety show star, as she did this past week on the Burt Bacharach
special. Or perhaps Bette Midler is really what
she pretends to be.
Camp is an overused word lhat brings to mind paintings of Campbell’s soup
cans, but camp Is justÂ what catches us and makes us watch those 2:30 a.m. movies with a bit of nostalgia and a bit of yearning. How fine to sweep across the floor on the arm of Fred Astaire, tiers of be-feathered, long-legged beauties looking on, to the strains of “Shall We Dance?” How great to live the simple, glamorous life of those forties movies, or the emotional but satisfying life of the duck-tailed fifties lyrics.
Perhaps Bette Midler has found a way to do both, with style, and reach out to us at the same time.