At 69, Bette Midler Still Bewitches on Her Divine Intervention Tour
May 23, 2015
by Beca Grimm
You how how they say that, in life, you just have to “find your tribe”? After my evening at the Bette Midler Divine Intervention show in Atlanta, I finally know what that means. I knew it as soon as my brave photographer and I sidled up to a bar near the arena and found two women with thick Southern accents double-fisting tall iced teas and beers. A mother-daughter duo and Beaches mega-fans, they were beyond stoked for the imminent show. Philips Arena was thick with the aroma of rose perfume and familial debt being paid–it was fairly clear most were there as the result of a Mother’s Day gift. I found my seat slung low in the rafters and caught someone noting a pattern in the crowd. “Every fifth person doesn’t have wine in their hand,” said the voice behind me which I couldn’t easily determine as annoyed or impressed. (Let’s go with impressed.)
The stadium peddled plastic wine glasses with thick stems and lids that’d snap into place, should the show physically move you (good planning). The audience was mostly women in their late-40s to mid-60s with a few offspring in tow. I saw a good number of illuminated smartphone screens below, text magnified so large I could read full exchanges from rows away. (One woman’s friend recently went into successful remission! “Amen & amen,” she responded.) To my right, a lady in a sparkling cardigan loudly whispered to her friend that the secret to a night’s peaceful sleep is half a bar of Xanax before bed.
Lights softened and dimmed. A purple tornado swirled across a dramatic light show, eventually leading to the drawn curtain and Midler spectacularly emerging from an arm chair embedded in the storm’s destruction and trash. Her trio of dancers literally crawled from the fake tornado’s debris. Midler wore a dazzling navy sequin two-piece that mimicked a catsuit, moving with the ease and enthusiasm of a teen who just passed her driver’s exam on the first go.
Her energy and her footwear were enviable. She cracked a few jokes about preparing for the show by standing in a refrigerator for hours to “firm up” and worked in a loving jab at her fans and their night blindness (which is at least true for this 27-year-old). Midler was wrapped in what was essentially plastic wrap topped with heavier pieces of plastic, sprinting up and down the stage in heels. The Divine Miss M is days away from 70. These kinds of efforts–and the poise with which she pulled them off–was fucking witchcraft.
I must admit my own personal Bette Midler education kicked off with 1993’s Disney cult classic Hocus Pocus. Why Disney actually made this movie, I don’t need to know. Although mostly regarded as a children’s film, it still has fairly adult and/or menacing topics central to its plot line: It’s about a trio of Satan worshippers brought back to life because a young VIRGIN (that part is important) teen trespassed and lit a candle that may or may not have been crafted from human fat. I was about seven when I first saw this film and it gave me nightmares that occasionally flare up in variations today. My ensuing obsession with witches, combined with a Catholic upbringing and living on an actual swamp, made me a perpetually nervous child with a gruesome interest in cross-themed jewelry and spooky oak trees. Eventually, Hocus Pocus became less of a scarring blip in my childhood memory and more of a platform to appreciate really excellent musical theater (and SJP’s equally excellent dark reddish-brown lip color).
Midler even covered motherfucking TLC’s “Waterfalls.” I actually cried at this point.
Over the course of Bette’s career, she’s sold close to 30 million albums. She started doing world tours performing her comedy, songs, dance, and general badassitude in 1980. Bette did several residencies performing in Vegas, too, but Divine Intervention is her first tour in a decade–and the first time her beloved Delores the Mermaid character didn’t make a cameo in its over 30-year existence. (“Did you REALLY think I’d wedge myself into that fucking fishtail?” Bette quipped.)
The tour’s stop at Atlanta’s Philips Arena looked nearly sold-out to me, with the majority of the venue’s 18,238 seats stuffed with wine-drunk moms and grandmoms armed with Instagram. Bette was on stage shimmying around, talking about giving dudes boners, likening herself to vodka. She cued the dancers to pull some sort of magic cord that transformed their outfits into something a middle school girl might wear on her first non-chaperoned trip to the mall.
They performed “I’ve Still Got My Health” and it’s clear Midler ain’t lying. According to, well, Midler, she still hasn’t had any work done. Her hair looked like something Frenchie would have style if she had actually graduated from beauty school. A Jumbovision close-up on her face looked like a candle (made of paraffin, not human fat) that’s been burning for about an hour–soft, natural, albeit a little worn. She looked how a 69-year-old woman ought to–only slightly better. Remember, guys, Midler started her stage career on Broadway in 1965. She is a vet–in a youth-obsessed industry, it takes a pro to keep packing out cavernous arenas four decades after her teeth-cutting days.
Midler did a few slow numbers–some with her gals, some solo, but all with her fabulous backing band (many members of which were local). Then it grew even more glorious when she got all fabulously femme, girl power preachin’ and covered The Exciters’ “Tell Him” as her backup singers/dancers spun like delirious pink lampshades. Honestly, Midler danced her ass off for six songs (including a line dance) before taking a stool for the seventh song and still, the Jumbovision hardly detected any glistening of sweat.
Midler even covered motherfucking TLC’s “Waterfalls.” Remember, this was in Atlanta, TLC’s hometown. I actually cried at this point. Then she discussed the politics of dick pics and compared them to “mug shots of little old bald men,” which, true.
Eerie instrumentals filled the dark stage during a moment of still and then–I physically emitted a sob as Bette began the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins‘ number from Hocus Pocus, “I Put a Spell on You.” I took a million photos and texted them to my sister, who thoughtfully responded, “I hope you’re getting scared.”
Miss M didn’t miss a beat or slow her manic roll on my watch. She changed into a pair of Louboutins and talked about dudes who were bad at making her cum. She plowed through a long list of other numbers including a cover of the Rolling Stones‘ “Beast of Burden” and a tap dance routine in which she swapped out her hot pink sequin gown for what looked like an egg costume. She was on fire. I looked around the arena: The elation over Bette’s performance was palpable.
At the end of the show, despite sitting completely still while watching another person run through a grueling 25-song setlist in two hours, I felt totally zonked. I stood slumped, transfixed as a golden radio memory from my childhood took living form. Bette leaned forward, baring a sincere-looking smile as “Wind Beneath My Wings” rolled out like some velvety vomit. I left before the encore to beat the initial surge to the train (Atlanta’s public transit is always a gamble). Boarding the crowded MARTA car, the whole magic of the night sunk in: Midler wasn’t just playing a witch–she was one. And a fucking awesome witch, at that.
Bette Midler’s Divine Intervention tour goes on through July with upcoming stops in Seattle, Toronto, Chicago, New York, London, and more.
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