November 15, 1973
It is indeed a rarity when a performer lives up to all his (or her) advance notices. Especially when those notices are as impressive as were those of the Divine Miss M. Publicity can be a deadly weapon when used properly by the image-creating masters of the recording industry. As the goal of their publicity is always to make money or return same on that already invested, industry hype is naturally overstated and overrated more often than not. Thus myself and 3600 others were in for a pleasant surprise Friday night in the Ben Light Gymnasium. For Bette Midler in concert is everything they say she is and much much more. An exciting multi-talented actress, performer and entertainer, Bette totally captivated and enthralled a mixed Ithaca audience.
Bette was backed by a four-piece rhythm section led by her pianist-producer-arranger, Barry Manilow, and a female vocal trio whom the Divine Miss M introduced as “Three barmaids from the Ichabod.” Describing her act as “good ol’ American trash”, Bette began the evening with Buzzy Linhart‘s “Friends”.
Few performers make use of the stage as Bette Midler does. She’s all over, constantly moving; side to side and back and forth, reaching out affectingly and imploring the audience to join in the fun. Not one segment of her audience is neglected. “How ya doing in the back?”, she inquires, “Ya doing ok?” Even the security officers got some attention. “How ya doing, officer?”, she intoned as a security guard walked by the stage. “Keep an eye on him?”, she went on, “He’s got his eye on me.” A pause. “He’s got his eye up me.”
Bette develops a fantastic rapport with her audience and develops it throughout the evening, rapping constantly between songs. Rather than an aside to her act, as is the case with most performers, these “spontaneous” raps are an integral part of Bette’s overall performance. Developed with the aid of a professional gag writer, Bette kept the audience in stitches most of the night.
The majority of her between song sketches had either political or sexual connotations: “Just a little more tit-shakin’ and this group will be quite happy.” Even when introducing the band, Bette couldn’t help but comment. “Lets start on organ,” she said, pausing a moment to allow the suggestiveness of the line to sink in. “That’s a good place to start.”
Her act is composed of two parts and three costumes, the last of which occurs right on stage. The Harlettes were initially costumed in tacky styled clothing of the 50’s, complemented with a makeup look related to theatre. Rather than attempt the impossible task of describing to you Bette’s quite impressive wardrobe and costume changes, I shall let the accompanying photos do that for me. The material, while rarely original, combined some of the more well-known hits of the 50’s and some contemporary songs of the late 60’s and early 70’s. To give you some idea of the music, let me run down a partial list of the songs: “Leader of the Pack”, “Chapel of Love”, “Da Doo Ron Ron“, “Do You Wanna Dance” and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” represented the music of the 50’s, while “Superstar”, “I Shall Be Released“, “Hello In There” and “Drinking Again” were representative of the 60’s and early 70’s. Bette, the fantastic entertainer that she is, was able to carry the diverse and varying styles of material with relative ease. With a background in acting, Bette captured the different roles of each and every song, injecting a vivid emotion and sincerity into the songs, making them her own. Bette is blessed with such abundant talent that she would likely be just as successful as a totally serious performer featuring her vocal talent alone.
As a live act Bette is immeasurably more impressive in concert than she is on vinyl. Whether or not you like her recordings (and I personally did not care for The Divine Miss M lp), her concerts are fantastic, and then some. Words simply can not describe the performance Bette gave Friday night. There are no words strong enough to describe how absolutely fine she was. An incredible performer, a great actor, a fabulous entertainer and a beautiful singer. The sound system was flawless and of superior quality, while the Divine Miss M was just amazing. An absolutely awe-inspiring performance with little room or need for improvement. That’s all I can say, I’ve run out of adjectives. If you missed her this time, don’t make the same mistake again.