After the final bows were taken and the curtain swished closed, Bette Midler popped through to address the audience one more time.
â€œItâ€™s been an honor and a pleasure to play for you,â€ she said, smiling wide and clasping her hands in genuine appreciation.
For Midler and many of her peers â€“ Billy Joel, Fleetwood Mac, Barry Manilow, Cher â€“ who have also crafted flawless productions, the realization that theyâ€™re in the twilight of their luminous careers is obvious. They love being on stage. They love singing and performing and telling stories and jokes.
And they know it isnâ€™t going to last much longer, so why not make every moment out there as meaningful as possible?
For two hours at Philips Arena on Thursday, Midler, a youthful 70, blazed through a 25-song set list that was stunning in its variety â€“ from the scat-jazzy â€œIâ€™ve Still Got My Healthâ€ to the snappy cover of The Excitersâ€™ â€œTell Himâ€ to her achingly gorgeous version of Randy Newmanâ€™s â€œI Think Itâ€™s Gonna Rain Todayâ€ to the feisty rock nod of â€œBeast of Burden.â€
Add in a couple of outfit changes â€“ lots of sequins and a feathery homage to poultry as her beloved â€œSophâ€(ie) Tucker character â€“ millisecond-quick one-liners, those hard-working Harlettes and an airtight band and it was all a delightful blur of shuffling heels and bawdy patter.
The only element of her show â€“ which has always been a mashup of the best of Mae West and Joan Rivers â€“ that has been nixed is an appearance by that wheelchair-barreling mermaid, Delores Delago.
But, as Midler promised in our interview before the tour launch, Delago did receive her due â€“ a celebratory video montage of her greatest moments set to the instrumental of â€œThe Glory of Love.â€
R.I.P., Ms. Toast of Chicago.
What might be most impressive about this tour, Midlerâ€™s first in more than a decade (Atlanta was the fourth stop of a 22-date run), is a set list that not only taps every phase of her career, but allows her to showcase the full range of her voice.
Her dexterity was displayed on a gliding version of Rosemary Clooneyâ€™s â€œTenderly,â€ while her ability to sell a ballad with clarity and emotion powered â€œThe Roseâ€ to its soaring climax.
But Midler seemed positively ageless as she unleashed a lifetime of loss, hurt, regret and longing in one potent knockout of a rendition of Lorraine Ellisonâ€™s 1966 hit, â€œStay with Me.â€
As much, though, as fans flock to a Midler concert to embrace 40 years of classic musical moments, they also go to be entertained.
While Midler might not race around the stage anymore with the verve and gusto of her decades-younger self, sheâ€™s still ready to pop with an arsenal of rim-shot humor.
As her Harlettes â€“ Caroline Hatchett, Nicolette Hart and Kyra DaCosta â€“ whizzed her around the stage on a lips-shaped couch, oxygen tank at the ready, Midler spouted a hilarious rant about social media (â€œWeâ€™re so starved for entertainment, itâ€™s no wonder people are taking pictures of their food,â€ â€œRemember when people were AFRAID of being followed? Now, theyâ€™re devastated when theyâ€™re not.â€).
Midler, though, is at her sharpest with her impromptu barbs. She called out a fan in the front row for texting during a song â€“ to much applause from the audience â€“ and also admonished the crowd to, â€œPut down the stupid smartphones, people. If you want to look at me on a phone, call meâ€ (And from the You Canâ€™t Make This Stuff Up Department, the words had barely left Midlerâ€™s mouth before the woman in front of me yanked out her phone and returned to filming the entire concert).
Midler also always makes a point to tailor some banter to the hometown crowd. Her Atlanta concert was postponed a day because of the Hawks playoff game, and Midler nodded to the team by including their logo on a locker propped next to the throne that marked her entrance.
She recalled her time in the city filming â€œParental Guidanceâ€ a few years ago, joked about myriad Peachtrees (while noting that, ironically, there arenâ€™t any peach trees around), gave a shout out to TLC before performing their â€œWaterfallsâ€ and several times spotlighted her Atlanta band members, including music director Morris â€œMoâ€ Pleasure, drummer Sonny Emory, bassist Sam Sims and keyboardist Darrell Smith.
If there is a quibble about this â€œDivine Interventionâ€ tour, itâ€™s the design of her stage, which is framed with a lighted proscenium that prevents those in the side sections from viewing the band or the video screen set behind them.
But Midler made sure to stay at the front of the stage, often in a solo spotlight for her treasured ballads, including â€œFrom a Distance.â€ Is it schmaltzy? Yes. But we say itâ€™s OK if itâ€™s meaningful, touching schmaltz.
Before leaving the stage to prepare for the encore of the ubiquitous â€œWind Beneath My Wingsâ€ and a spunky presentation of â€œBoogie Woogie Bugle Boy,â€ Midler was visibly moved as she told the crowd, â€œThank you for loving me â€“ and thank you for the years.â€
Right back atcha.