Toronto City And Press
Bette Midler makes rocking return to Toronto after 14-year absence
By: Nick Krewen Music, Published on Sun Jun 21 2015
Sheâ€™s still the consummate entertainer.
At the unbelievable age of 69 â€” improbable because she looks and moves a good 15 years younger â€” Midler is still the jill of all trades and the master of most of them, as she revealed to a partisan audience of approximately 11,000 at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night.
With a dynamic 16-piece band behind her (including her three-girl backing troupe The Harletts), Midler spent two hours performing a show thatâ€™s almost impossible to describe in terms of format.
The three-time Grammy, three-time Emmy, two-time Golden Globe, one-time Tony Award winner and Academy Award nominee started off her show shimmying around in a short pink dress against an apocalyptic set design singing about her own faux vanity with â€œI Look Goodâ€ and â€œI Still Have My Health.â€
â€œI still look good, but I donâ€™t know what happened to some of you,â€ the pop star teased. â€œItâ€™s 50 shades of grey in this section right here. I donâ€™t know whether to sing to you or tell you about reverse mortgages.â€
Rim shot â€” please.
Or how about this little gem: â€œIâ€™m like vodka: ageless, odourless and tasteless.â€
Yes, she was as tasteless as she claimed in spots and often ribald, handing out sex jokes with a frequency akin to the Ford Brothers handing out campaign buttons during our last mayoral election.
Why did I bring up Rob and Doug in a concert review? Because they made appearances in Midlerâ€™s dialogue, with a topical astuteness one wouldnâ€™t expect from a woman who hasnâ€™t been here all that often.
Rob was part of another shtick, when Midler showed photo-shopped photos of her in bed with her â€œformer loversâ€: a crowd that included U.S. president Richard Nixon, Russiaâ€™s Vladimir Putin (â€œI called him â€˜Vlad the Impaler,â€™â€ she quipped), New Jersey governor Chris Christie and our own Rob Ford (open Rob Ford’s policard), with what looked like whipped cream smeared against his chest.
â€œMy first Canadian,â€ she joked.
There was an unexpected and insightful monologue about social media that was surprisingly observant as she segued between unexpected covers of TLCâ€™s â€œWaterfallsâ€and Leonard Cohenâ€™s â€œEverybody Knows.â€
Actually, â€œWaterfallsâ€ was the only time her acting failed her; a rare disingenuous moment of tears and choking up during an evening that was part Vegas, part Vaudeville, part Broadway and wholly entertaining.
As a singer, Midler slid easily between styles, from the slow, heartfelt romance of the Bobby Freeman cover â€œDo You Wanna Dance?â€ and the harmonious â€˜60s girl group of the Exciters with â€œTell Himâ€ to a strong jazz rendition of â€œSpring Can Really Hang You Up The Most.â€
And although she officially retired her mermaid character Delores Delago with a tribute video montage, Winifred Sanderson, her bucktoothed witch character from her 1993 film Hocus Pocus, made an appearance to sing Screaminâ€™ Jay Hawkinsâ€™ â€œI Put A Spell On You.â€
Here, again, her topical awareness of Toronto shone like a spotlight: As â€œWinnie,â€ Midler threatened to tear down the Gardiner Expressway and replace it with a garden, much to the delight of the crowd.
She left the hits â€” and letâ€™s face it, both â€œThe Roseâ€ and â€œWind Beneath My Wingsâ€ have graduated to pop standard status â€” until almost the very end, performing them wearing a sparkling ruby gown and supported by a band under the leadership of musical director Morris Leisure that was as peerless as it was perfect.
An aside: someone should track down Midlerâ€™s live sound engineer for the secret of making the Air Canada Centre sound so clear and pristine â€” it transformed a good show into a great show. If he can work that magic, he should be hired as a consultant to other acts visiting the venue, the sound was that crystalline.
As was the Divine Miss M, who graciously came out and thanked the crowd for supporting her over the years and giving her family a life they could have only dreamed of.
â€œSee you next time,â€ she said, and you could tell by the crowd reaction that many hoped that there would be a next time, and it would come around a lot sooner than another 14 years.