Bette Midler starts out her Pepsi Center show pleading old age. She makes fun of her own perseverance (â€œIâ€™m like vodka,â€ she jokes, â€œageless, odorless and tastelessâ€) and of all the gray hair in her audience (â€œI donâ€™t know if I should sing to you,â€ she rants, â€œor talk to you about the advantages of a reverse mortgageâ€). Itâ€™s a funny bit that goes on, delivered as the music begins to play and her scantily-clad backup singers, The Harlettes, start to wiggle their things about the stage
And, of course, itâ€™s a set up. As she dives into the song â€œDivine Intervention,â€ a camp, crowd-pleaser that posits her as the â€œpeopleâ€™s goddessâ€ and a super-powered icon of her time, you quickly see Midlerâ€™s not so worse for wear.
At 69, her voice remains strong, emotive and versatile. Sheâ€™s sexy, lithe and leggy, prancing around in a sherbet pink mini-dress. Sheâ€™s as dirty as you remember; Bette Midlerâ€™s jokes, and they spew out like a fire house, use the f-word as a verb, not an adjective.
Itâ€™s all energetic, if not exactly youthful. A half-century of entertaining turns everything into nostalgia. Itâ€™s hard to focus on songs like â€œThe Roseâ€ or â€œWind Beneath My Wingsâ€ or â€œFrom a Distanceâ€ without thinking about where you were in your life when they were playing non-stop on the radio. Midler delivers them with her trademark leave-em-crying style, but theyâ€™re emotional time bombs that go off on command.
The old jokes are hilarious, though not new; fans have heard them before. The new jokes resonate, though theyâ€™re not classics. â€œRemember when people were afraid of being followed?â€ she asks, taking on the Facebook revolution.
â€œButts have kicked boobs under the bus,â€ she complains, in a bluster over the Kardashianâ€™s current popularity.
In Midlerâ€™s heyday, cleavage was currency, and sheâ€™s still happy to make hers a main attraction, ending the evening in a red, sequin gown that pushed her whole body front and center. She knows the style of show business that made her a star and sheâ€™s not giving it up a single trick: She offers up a few of those famous palm-up hand gestures while she sings and kicks off her high-heels for the big number. The crowd eats it up for nearly two hours.
If sheâ€™s a dying breed â€” really, who does a variety show anymore? â€” then sheâ€™s going out big and with a broad routine. She croons like a jazz-age angel through â€œSpring Can Really Hang You Up the Most;â€ gets rock â€™nâ€™ roll raw for Janis Joplinâ€™s â€œStay with Me Baby;â€ throws everything into an old-school soul take on TLCâ€™s more recent hit â€œWaterfall.â€
Her voice has always been deep, edgy, earthy. Time tends to add to those qualities, not take them away, so Midler handles all the material just fine. Plus, sheâ€™s an actress, she knows how to sell it. She has the gift of uplift, delivering what she describes in her own, off-color way as â€œa boob job for your soul.â€
This far into her career, still popular and adored, still playing arenas and wearing thigh-high hemlines, Midler remains â€œa triumph of science and fiction.â€ No one could put it better than Bette.
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