Review: Bette Midler at the Pepsi Center in Denver

Hey Reverb
Bette Midler at the Pepsi Center in Denver
Ray Mark Rinaldi May 21, 2015

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Bette Midler starts out her Pepsi Center show pleading old age. She makes fun of her own perseverance (“I’m like vodka,” she jokes, “ageless, odorless and tasteless”) and of all the gray hair in her audience (“I don’t know if I should sing to you,” she rants, “or talk to you about the advantages of a reverse mortgage”). It’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, it’s a set up. As she dives into the song “Divine Intervention,” a camp, crowd-pleaser that posits her as the “people’s goddess” and a super-powered icon of her time, you quickly see Midler’s not so worse for wear.

At 69, her voice remains strong, emotive and versatile. She’s sexy, lithe and leggy, prancing around in a sherbet pink mini-dress. She’s as dirty as you remember; Bette Midler’s jokes, and they spew out like a fire house, use the f-word as a verb, not an adjective.

It’s all energetic, if not exactly youthful. A half-century of entertaining turns everything into nostalgia. It’s hard to focus on songs like “The Rose” or “Wind Beneath My Wings” or “From a Distance” 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 they’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 they’re not classics. “Remember when people were afraid of being followed?” she asks, taking on the Facebook revolution.

“Butts have kicked boobs under the bus,” she complains, in a bluster over the Kardashian’s current popularity.

In Midler’s heyday, cleavage was currency, and she’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 she’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 she’s a dying breed – really, who does a variety show anymore? – then she’s going out big and with a broad routine. She croons like a jazz-age angel through “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most;” gets rock ’n’ roll raw for Janis Joplin’s “Stay with Me Baby;” throws everything into an old-school soul take on TLC’s more recent hit “Waterfall.”

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, she’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 “a boob job for your soul.”

This far into her career, still popular and adored, still playing arenas and wearing thigh-high hemlines, Midler remains “a triumph of science and fiction.” No one could put it better than Bette.

For more photos of Divine Intervention: Click Here

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