Bette Midler wrapped up the American leg of her “Divine Intervention” tour in top form at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, and, aptly, the show was both a raucous homecoming and a meditation, however deliciously lewd, on the passage of time. Midler launched her career in New York more than four decades ago, but, as she repeatedly pointed out, the cultural landscape has transformed in mind-boggling ways since that time. Still, her impressively varied 18-song set, liberally salted with cabaret theatrics and single-entendre sex jokes, demonstrated her continued relevance. Generations of brassy, slyly winking female rebels ”“ from Deborah Harry and Madonna to Miley Cyrus ”“ all owe her a debt.
Promising to please her audience “like a blow job for your soul,” Midler fashioned a set that recounted both her long string of hits and her success in such films as Beaches and The Rose, in which she played a character based on Janis Joplin. Indeed, powerhouse versions of “The Rose” and “Stay With Me,” an anguished ballad that became a signature song for Joplin, elicited two of the audience’s most impassioned responses. There were many moments of bawdy hijinks. Midler mock-regretted failing to “monetize my sex life” as Kim Kardashian has done so successfully, and playfully bemoaned the “epidemic of dick pics” that social media had spawned.
When the joking subsided, however, naked declarations of need defined the evening. She celebrated how songs like “From a Distance” and “Wind Beneath My Wings” had become soundtracks to the most important events in her fans’ lives, and delivered versions of them that demonstrated why they earned that stature. She displayed her extraordinary stylistic range, effortlessly moving through pop chestnuts like “Do You Want to Dance” and “Teach Me Tonight” (from her recent album of girl-group hits, It’s the Girls) to the jazz standard “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” and rock-era classics like the Rolling Stones‘ “Beast of Burden,” Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows” and Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today.” Her band ”“ guitar, keyboards, bass, drums, percussion and a robust horn section, not to mention her three background singers, the Harlettes ”“ proved more than equal to the eclectic material.
Midler will turn 70 later this year, and she made a point of thanking her fans for staying with her for what has been a long, wild ride. Her tears evinced her sincerity. Then she wrapped up the evening with a rollicking version of her 1972 hit, “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” demonstrating that, however much time has passed, her girlish charm remained entirely undiminished.