Ithaca New Times
November 18, 1973
Bette Midler defies description. Trying to explain one of her concerts to someone who has never seen her perform is similar to the task astronomers face in trying to explain what Kohoutek’s comet will look like. There are no adequate adjectives, and awed music critics have become entangled in superlatives in the attempt. Midler simply has to be seen.
Bette Midler has been ranked with female superstars of all time periods, including Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland and Janis Joplin. She draws her style from not one, but many of the entertainment elite. Ultimately, however, all comparisons are unfair. Midler’s resemblance to other performers can only be based on a common quality of greatness, a magic that radiates from the stage.
She is unique. Her show is a mixture of burlesque, rock’n’roll and the music of the Thirties and Forties. She is a singer; she is a comic. But first and foremost she is an actress. We don’t see the real Bette Midler on stage, but rather the Divine Miss M, the character which Midler has created.
Bette Midler is a Jewish middleclass girl, subject to an overweight childhood, an aquiline nose and a feeling of unpopularity among other childhood acquaintances. Her career, which turned into a dreamlike success story, started when she studied drama at the University of Hawaii. That led to a bit part in the movie Hawaii. After that, it was off to New York, where she won a part in the chorus of Fiddler on the Roof, later graduating to the role of the eldest daughter, Tzeitel. Midler left the Broadway stage to pursue her singing career, but her past experience in acting still serves as an enhancement to her voice.
Captures the Essence
Musically, she is not overwhelming. Her first record (entitled The Divine Miss M) is enjoyable, but it isn’t until you have seen her perform that the record takes on another dimension. She has done nothing in the way of new music, and her largest contribution seems to be the way she has made millions of young people recognize that there was a lot of excellent music around before the advent of rock’n’roll. What Midler does possess, though, is a style that allows her to capture the essence of every song she chooses. Each song conveys the mood and the message that the writer intended.
In concert, Midler is what she sings. Each song is a new role. In “Superstar” she plays a groupie, in “Leader of the Pack” it’s a greaser. Between songs it’s the Divine Miss M, and it is this personality people pay to see. In these times of inflation and get-rich-quick music, Midler is one performer who gives you more than your money’s worth.
Only a talent like Bette Midler could make the crowd at Ithaca College forget what they had gone through to see her. The organizers of the concert displayed what was either a gross lack of organization or an extreme disregard for their patrons. Whatever the reason, the scene was not only disgraceful but dangerous.
Some of Midler’s faithful were forced to wait outside for as long as three hours in sub-freezing weather before they were allowed to enter the gym. When the doors were finally opened, it was in such a way that a huge bottleneck crush occurred. The entire crowd had to literally fight their way into the hall as tickets were taken two at a time.
During this fiasco at least one person had to be taken away in an ambulance, and it is a credit to the crowd that a riot didn’t take place. Bringing big name talent to a campus is commendable, but treating paying customers like excess baggage taints that achievement.
Certainly, a concert-goer shouldn’t have to risk injury in order to watch three hours of music, no matter how great. Hopefully, the college will be able to rectify these conditions before they attempt another project of this magnitude, but if they can’t, it might be best to scrap any plans along that line.
Once inside, the atmosphere was much better. The lights dimmed and the crowd rose to their feet to welcome the Divine Miss M, who reciprocated with a show that was extraordinary even by her own standards.
For the next 1 1/2 hours, Midler was all over the stage – running from one place to another, bumping and grinding, falling to the floor, it seemed as if she were filled with an unending supply of free-flowing adrenaline. Backed by her five-piece band and the Harlettes (three women dressed like cocktail waitresses), Midler threw herself’ into material as diverse as The Andrew Sisters and the Shangri-Las. In addition to performing every song of her first album, Midler rendered her Philadelphia medley – (“Uptown ,” “Don’t Say Nothing Bad About My Baby,” “Do Run Run”), Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released,” Jackie Wilson’s “Higher and Higher” and “Lullaby of Broadway.”
Between selections she delivered comic material that inevitably was either insulting or sexual. Her style makes Don Rickles look like a classless buffoon. She insults herself: “This number really reeks;” she insults the audience: “You people can’t really go to college;” and even our President: “First time I’ve seen ships desert a sinking rat.”
Her sexual jokes are, to say the least, bawdy. “Did you know that President Nixon has a copy of Deep Throat? In fact, he’s seen it seven or eight times and he’s going to keep on watching it until he gets it down pat.” Then she admonishes the audience for laughing and labels them gross: “You people are terrible, just terrible!”
Midler good-naturedly plays up the sex angle for all it’s worth. Physically, she is hardly your classic sex symbol!, vet she has the most sensuous show this side of Tina Turner. The Divine Miss M stands only 5’1″ tall, but is remarkably endowed. She boasts at one point, “You’re gonna like this because me and the girls shake our tits a lot in this number.” She leaves little to the imagination when she lies on the piano bench and does peddle pumps in the air.
While Bette Midler is indescribable, it can be safely said that she is unique, unpredictable and probably the most enjoyable entertainment experience available today. Reportedly she is taking acrobatic lessons, with the results to be incorporated into her next tour. So don’t be surprised if the next time you see Bette Midler she makes her entrance from the mouth of a cannon.