May we all age as brassily, as bawdily, as va-va-vivaciously as Bette Midler.
The Divine Miss M is 69, has been at this for five decades now, and yet her first major tour in a decade finds her skidding around the stage in a minidress and teeny spikes, swearing like a sailor, flashing a million-watt smile and more leg than Colonel Sanders.
“The people’s goddess is in the house tonight, to lift your spirits like a boob job for the soul!” she chirped to the crowd of 9,282 Monday at Tampa’s Amalie Arena. And later: “I’m like vodka: Ageless, odorless and tasteless!”
She got the first part right ”“ Midler still sells her mile-a-minute shtick, honed in the burlesques and bathhouses of yesteryear, with puckered-lip glee, and by golly, it still plays in the Sunshine State’s cheap seats.
Midler’s Divine Intervention Tour ostensibly comes in support of her charming new album It’s The Girls!, a tribute to the girl-group pop of the ’60s. Always a zealous interpreter of the American canon, Midler delivered a handful of those tracks with zest ”“ her sharp, snappy spins on the Exciters’ Tell Him and the Crystals’ Da Doo Ron Ron were finger-popping fresh ”“ but most of the set, as you’d expect, was devoted to just letting Bette be Bette.
Through four costume changes and nearly two hours of breathless theatricality, Midler sang her lips and hips off before a big-brass backing band of 12, interspersing songs and skits with one-liners aplenty ”“ and few dames know how to sell Catskills camp like Midler.
“I married a German, I did,” she said at one point. “Every night I get dressed up as Poland, and he invades me.” The crowd groaned and she grinned. “I warned you. That s— is old, people. That is some old, old s—.”
Didn’t matter. People ate her zany magic up, even when things got a little loony. Midler covered I Put a Spell On You dressed in full Hocus Pocus regalia, spinning and cackling as her backing vocalists, the Harlettes, swirled around about her. That was followed by a wordless interstitial featuring a humanoid egg tap-dancing to Yakety Sax. It went exactly like you’re imagining.
Chunks of the set were dedicated to decrying the ills of modern society, urging the AARP’ers in the house to stray from the sins of cell phones, Twitter, Facebook and all things Kardashian.
“You have to tweet!” she kvetched, reeling on a cherry-lip chaise as the Harlettes rolled her back and forth across the stage. “If you don’t tweet, you’re a cyberslacker! And you have to tweet at the rate of a ferret on methamphetamines!”
Then came a string of barbs about imagined hook-ups with the likes of Vladimir Putin (“He likes me to call him Vlad the Impaler. It was more like Vlad the Impotent”) and Bruce Jenner (“We watched Beaches and painted each other’s toenails”).
There were plenty more punchlines where these came from ”“ most, we’d blush at reprinting verbatim ”“ but Midler counterbalanced them all with a string of well-timed showstoppers, from Randy Newman’s I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today to a stripped and slowed-down lite-pop rendition of TLC’s Waterfalls.
And then came a stretch run of schmaltzy Midler magic: The Rose, From A Distance, Stay With Me and Wind Beneath My Wings. These are haymakers, all of them, tear-jerking titans that could enable any star of her stature to coast into the curtain years of life.
But no. Midler opted to close on an upbeat note with another signature standard, the Andrews Sisters’ World War II anthem Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy. The song debuted in 1941, Midler made it her own in 1973, and with a full band swingin’ and scootin’ behind her, it still draws standing O’s in 2015.
The years may pass, but some things never get old. May we all enjoy a twilight so divine.