October 22, 1973
It definitely was not your ordinary rock concert. Female impersonators and gays with their arms around each other paraded about openly. Lots of middle-aged people, some even with their families. And most of allâ€”Fifties Freaks.
The place was full of them. Guys in madras jackets, bow ties and baggy pants. Girls with dainty little blouses, full knee-length skirts, klunky shoes and floppy hats.
It was the Divine Miss M that had brought this unique conglomeration of people together. People who came looking for memories, for an identity, for someone to love. And Miss M gave and gave. The show opened with Midler’s backup vocal trio, the Harlettes, slinking onstage. The girls were dressed in tight tight black cocktail dresses and they radiated Fifties Sexâ€”an attitude of “extreme hostility” as Midler put it.
Amid thunderous applause, Midler herself bounced onto and across the stage. After opening with a line of “Everything’s up to date in Kansas City,” and going into her theme song, .â€”Friends,” she introduced herselfâ€””the last of the truly tacky women.”
She felt right at home though, as witnessed by her comment, “I’ve seen some tacky towns in my day, but Kansas City takes the cake.”
The audienceâ€”a near sell-out crowdâ€”loved her. Her songs, her chatter and little jokes, all had an intangible quality that made you feel like, well, maybe everything is going to turn out all right after all.
Midler seemed to be enjoying the whole thing immensely.
“I know everybody here came to be grossed out,” said she, “sooo all right.”
What followed was a short ditty â€” absolutely indescribableâ€”about “Bad Sex.” The song, she explained, was written by a personal friend for a Broadway show that was “absolutely the worst.”
Next came a “Philadelphia medley,” a combination of “Uptown” and “Do Ron Ron” a la 1950’s Bandstand with the Harlettes. Midler admitted that she had been a true blue Bandstand fan, and it is this music that seems to bring out the beast in her fans of todayâ€”that raunchy old rock n’ roll from a time when nobody had any troubles.
Midler’s repertoire goes even further back, however. In her version of the Andrews Sisters’ “Chatanooga Choo Choo,” she explained, “The climax of this song comes when the Divine turns into all three members of the trio,” a feat she has actually accomplished on television.
The Andrew Sisters were very talented, Midler related, in that “they could raise their eyebrows in unison . . . and often did.”
Midler informed those in the audience who had not quite figured out what was going on that she was not Miss Carpenter.
“She’s so clean, honey . . . like Miss Tricia.”
The next song, she added, was dedicated to Tricia’s daddy. Its name: “Daytime Hustler.”
Midler related that she had been an AM addict in her younger days. It seems though, she added, that they don’t play as many songs as they used to. In New York now, she said, they only play two songs â€””You’re So Vain” and “Killing Me Softly with Your ‘Wong.'”
For the first half of the show, Midler wore a purple pants suit. The flamboyance of the Crazy Miss M was evidenced only in an occasional glimpse of pink stocking and three tacky flowersâ€”pink, purple and blueâ€”in her hair.
“Kansas City,” she explained, “is a conservative town.”
Midler entered the second half, however, in a gaudy pink lame evening gown, which she proceeded to remove during a production of “Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher.” Underneath, surprise, she wore black peddle pushers and a strapless halter top.
The second half consisted largely of numbers from her album, “The Divine Miss M,” a fine bunch of songs all made very, very special by the Divine.
The high point of the show, undoubtedly, was “Leader of the Pack,” sung by Midler with extreme emotion, and aided by the Harlettes, displaying â€œextreme hostility.”
Hokey rock and roll has never received such a fine tribute.
The well-dressed crowd rose from the plush seats of Music Hall to give the Divine Miss M a standing ovation. She gave them “Chapel of Love” and they gave her another standing ovation.
I was thinking how different it was from Cowtown where no one would dare not to return for an encore with such applause and how polite this audience was being about the whole thing when the first cries of “More! More!” and the stamping of feet arose.
Miss M finally reappeared just to say thanks and that she never did things in a big way herself so if we would pick up a few pieces of garbage from the streets of Kansas City for her she would be very happy.
All in all, the concert was at least fantastic.
I’m not the first to say it and I certainly won’t be the lastâ€”Bette Midler is going to be a superstar. She can take a song and make if very alive and very personal; she can ease your mind and make you laugh.
Perhaps, as one person observed, it is just that she is the right person at the right timeâ€”a carry-over from the ’50’s arising in the heyday of nostalgia. I think, however, that if the demand had not been there, Miss M, with all her divineness, would have created it.