Bette Midler‘s Divine Intervention Tour is classic Bette
Ed Masley, The Republic | azcentral.com 11:01 a.m. MST May 25, 2015
The Divine Intervention Tour brought Bette Midler to Phoenix Sunday for a performance whose highlights included a tearful rendition of “Stay with Me,” newly recast as a tribute to friends she’s lost along the way, and a filthy assortment of Sophie Tucker jokes, the best of which began, “My boyfriend Ernie told me, ‘Soph, if you could learn to cook, we could fire the chef.”
Which is to say it offered everything people have come to expect in a Midler performance since she hit the streets with “Live at Last” back in the ’70s.
During the opening number, “Divine Intervention,” Midler told the crowd at US Airways Center, “We’re here to lift your spirits â€” like a boob job for your soul.”
And that’s exactly what she did.
At 69, the singer can’t do everything she used to, reworking the melody to “The Rose,” her first big single, to avoid the notes that may have been a challenge. But her vocals sounded great regardless. And in classic Midler fashion, she found a way to work not only her age but the fact that those who follow her aren’t getting any younger, either, into her performance.
During the opening number, after asking if anyone had driven to the concert, Midler quipped, “So good to know so many of my fans can still drive at night.” Then, after talking about how fabulous she looks (“I remain a triumph of science and fiction”), she joked that time had maybe been less kind to others in attendance, noting “It’s like 50 shades of gray in this section right here.”
At one point, Midler had her backup singers, the Harlettes, bring out a couch and oxygen, pretending she was winded for comic effect.
She also worked the Harlettes into one of Sunday’s best jokes.
“They used to be fact checkers at Fox News,” Midler said. “I snatched them up and nobody even noticed they were gone.”
There were 14 musicians on stage backing Midler Sunday, including a dancing five-man horn section. And they managed to give each song exactly what it needed, from a feisty cover of the girl-group classic “Tell Him” to an understated take on “Do You Wanna Dance” and from the raunchy guitar of the Rolling Stones song “Beast of Burden” to the encore-closing swing of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”
“Tell Him” was part of a three-song mini-set devoted to the singer’s latest album, a girl-group tribute aptly titled “It’s the Girls!” Midler sat at the edge of the stage, surrounded by the Harlettes for a gorgeous version of the Andrews Sisters “Bei Mir Bist Du SchÃ¶n” and stood alone on stage, the curtain lowered to obscure her musicians, for a dramatic, emotional read on the TLC ballad, “Waterfalls.”
That mini-set was followed by a comic monologue that started with a bit about our new public obsession with butts and how women now ask, “Do these jeans make my butt look big enough?” That led to the Kardashians, as talk of butt size will, and how the family owed at least a portion of its fame to the Kim Kardashian sex tape.
“I could kick myself,” Midler joked, “for not having the brains to monetize my sex life.”
This led to a series of photos showing Midler engaged in compromising positions with with everyone from Richard Nixon (“Don’t laugh. Why do you think they call him Tricky Dick?”) to Bruce Jenner (they painted each other’s toes). As Midler announced at the start of the show, “I’m like vodka â€” ageless, odorless and tasteless.”
Not everyone could transition from outrageous sex joke to a maudlin cover of the Leonard Cohen classic “Everybody Knows. But Midler’s been mixing her humor with heartache for decades. And so it seemed perfectly logical when “Everybody Knows” was followed by “I Put a Spell On You” with Midler dressed as Winnie Sanderson from “Hocus Pocus” with two Harlettes as her sister witches.
Yes, she went there.
The mood stayed light as the witches gave way to a tapdancing egg in heels on “Optimistic Voices” and the Harlettes as birds in a cage for “Bird in the Hand.”
Midler returned to the stage in a bird suit for the comic highlight of the concert, a rapid-fire string of bawdy Sophie Tucker jokes. That hilarious bit was followed by a deadpan Oscar-mocking In Memoriam sequence devoted to Delores Delago, Midler’s mermaid character.
A surprisingly raucous “Beast of Burden” (“from my very brief but impactful rock-and-roll period”) brought us out of the zaniness before the mood shifted again into the ballad-heavy climax of the show with “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most,” an understated jazz standard.
“The Rose” was everything it could have been, still gorgeous after all these years, and “From a Distance” was actually better than the studio recording.
But the concert clearly peaked with an emotionally devastating, deeply soulful “Stay With Me” devoted to the people she loved who are “ghosts” now. It earned a spontaneous standing ovation from the crowd and Midler herself seemed moved by the performance.
For the encore, Midler dedicated “Wind Beneath My Wings” to the fans. “This song is for you,” she said. “You gave me the greatest life anyone could imagine.”
It was a more conversational cabaret-style delivery than the record and it worked. Near the end of the song, I noticed a fan in front of me wiping a tear from his face. So I looked around and saw at least a dozen people in my section having very similar reactions. That’s a powerful performance and it would have been a perfect way to end the show.
But following that with a spirited romp through “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy?” That was better than perfect.
Sunday’s US Airways Center concert was the eighth stop on the singer’s first big U.S. tour since 2004, although she did 300 shows from 2008-2010 in a residency at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
“I Look Good”
“I’ve Still Got My Health”
“Do You Want To Dance?” (Bobby Freeman cover)
“Throw It Away”
“Tell Him” (The Exciters cover)
“Bei Mir Bist Du SchÃ¶n” (The Andrews Sisters cover)
“Waterfalls” (TLC cover)
“Everybody Knows” (Leonard Cohen cover)
“I Think It’s Going to Rain Today”
“I Put s Spell on You” (Nina Simone cover)
“Bird In the Hand”
“A Visit from Soph”
“R.I.P. Delores (The Glory of Love)”
“Beast of Burden” (The Rolling Stones cover)
“Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” (Ella Fitzgerald cover)
“From a Distance”
“Stay With Me”
“Wind Beneath My Wings”
“Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” (The Andrews Sisters cover)