Bette Midler reminded nearly 10,000 fans of her enduring power and charisma on Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center, putting ona muscular show filled with palpable emotion, wise-cracking jokes, and charming nods to Philadelphia.
Midler opened with her tour’s namesake “Divine Intervention,” before jumping into “I Look Good,” a classic full of characteristic sass.Midler quipped that she’s like vodka: ageless, odorless, and tasteless.
Her famed dancers, the Harlettes, were fabulous and essential to the performance, not just as backup, but as gossip girls and playmates. The ladies, Midler joked, had day jobs as Fox News fact-checkers – so no one noticed when she nabbed them for her tour.
Midler’s vocals were strong and healthy, as on a beautifully done “Do You Want to Dance.” The Divine Miss M might not be on par with the late Whitney Houston or Patti LaBelle – rumored to have been in the fifth row – but Midler’s pipes are well-maintained.
In a girl-group send-up of “Tell Him,” she name-checked early heroes including the Marvelettes, the Shangri-Las, and, yes, Patti LaBelle and the Bluebells. Her Harlettes donned fringe and shook it for all it was worth.
A powerful surprise came in the form of a cover of TLC’s “Waterfalls,” an involved performance that left Midler choked up.
After a run of Kardashian shade and a tally of her faux sexual conquests – including Richard Nixon, Vladimir Putin, Dick Cheney, and Bruce Jenner (“We watched Beaches and painted each other’s toenails”) – she turned in a gorgeous “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today,” that led to a Hocus Pocus montage, featuring “I Put a Spell On You.”
She brought out the Canary Club – a cage with feather-covered Harlettes hanging out of the windows and Midler herself covered in plumage. They embarked on some goofball humor, then introduced an ode to her mermaid-costume days in the form of a eulogy for the great, apparently “late,” Delores Delago, her fish-tailed alter ego.
Her “Beast of Burden” was a triumph, while “The Rose” caused the singer to well up again. “From a Distance” and “Stay With Me” were similarly tear-inducing.
Midler dropped a charming lesson from decades in the biz – songs change as time passes. “Stay” used to be about bedding strangers but now has become about saying goodbye to loved ones. She gave a nod to her earliest visits to Philly – at the old Bijou Cafe at Broad and Lombard – before closing with “Wind Beneath My Wings” and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”
“This isn’t my song anymore, it’s yours,” she said of the latter and thanked her fans for loyalty. “Some shows were good, some were bad – but you still showed up.”