New York Daily News
Bette Midler performs to sold-out audience at Madison Square Garden, proves resilience to bawdy, broad character
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS Friday, June 26, 2015, 12:26 AM
Some stars age like fine wine.
Bette Midler told her sold-out audience at the Garden Thursday that she ages “like vodka”:
“Ageless, odorless, and tasteless,” she quipped.
And thank God for that.
At 69, Bette continues to prove the resilience of the broad and bawdy character she has played for over four decades now. It’s an approach with antecedents that snake back nearly a century, to the early days of vaudeville. But at the first of Midler’s three area shows – part of her first major tour in a decade – she made both age and history work in her favor.
At the show’s start, the singer/actress/comic trumpeted her ability to keep it together after nearly seven decades of wear and tear. Early on, she featured “I Look Good,” followed by the wry “I’ve Still Got My Health,” which she first recorded on the “Beaches” soundtrack.
She next went into a song which accented her deep catalogue – a dreamy cover of Bobby Freeman’s hit “Do You Wanna Dance” – which appeared on her 1972 debut, “The Divine Miss M.”
Bette has dedicated a good portion of her career since that album to preserving pop classics, many from a pre-rock era, a fresh approach in the early ”˜70s.
“Some people rescue dogs and cats,” the star said. “I rescue old songs.”
During the first half of the “Divine Intervention” show, Midler featured her most recent resurrection – of girl group songs from the ”˜40s through the ”˜60s, titled “It’s The Girls!”
Her version of The Exciters’ “Tell Him” lived up the album’s exclamation point with a properly manic vocal. Bette proved just as adept moving backwards (to the moon-june era relic “Teach Me Tonight,” by The DeCastro Sisters), or forwards (to TLC’s “Waterfalls,” the “newbie” of the batch, from the ”˜90s).
Here, and elsewhere, Bette took an actorly approach to the songs, reading certain lines like grand speeches. She bored deep into the drama of Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today,” sometimes layering on the ham.
Likewise, her jokes throughout the nearly two hour show could invite groans along with the giggles. But Bette is nothing if not self-aware. So she leavened any moldiness with an admission, early on, that her show would “repeat everything from the past that I can remember.”
True to her word, she featured a video salute to her old Delores De Lago character, employed, essentially, as a time-killer for a costume change. She also hauled out an array of ancient Sophie Tucker jokes, delivered with just enough zest and affection to redeem their familiarity.
Much of the schtick during the night warmly winked at the indignities of aging – both her own and the audience’s.
Bette’s topical material treated modern technology with the skepticism of a proud coot. She ranked on Facebook, Tinder, Grinder, and Facebook.
“Remember when being followed was a scary thing?,” she asked an audience seasoned enough to get it.
For all the camp and sauciness, the star has an uncanny ability to turn to something sober fast. She has the intelligence, and the dark wit, to deliver Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows,” as well as the abiding pipes to make The Stones’ “Beast of Burden” stirring.
The breadth of her character can even redeem the enormous corn of hits like “Wind Beneath My Wings” and “From A Distance.” While insufferable on album, the live context drew on the fullness of Bette’s persona to make them surprisingly touching.
Even more impressive were the pop culture connections the show drew. What other arena-level performer can still bring to the stage a ”˜60s rock-blues blow-out like “Stay With Me,” a jazz standard like “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most” and a swing smash from the ”˜40s like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy“?
By bringing them all together, Bette proved herself our last link to a vanishing past – and, so, a genuine gift to the present.
Bette Midler’s “Divine Intervention” show returns to The Garden Friday and plays Barclays Center Monday.