San Antonio, TX
SBC Center
November 14, 2004

Concert Review: Divine Miss M wows audience with electrifying show
Hector Saldaña
San Antonio Express-New

Photo: BaltoBoy Steve Weiner

From gay bathhouse diva to queen of the world, that's the story of Bette Midler's fabulous career.

Well, at least that's how the Divine Miss M tells it.

"I'm not certain I could run the world, but I know I couldn't (bleep) it up any worse," Midler told an adoring audience of nearly 9,500 people at her extravagant "Kiss My Brass" tour stop at SBC Center on Sunday.

That's a remarkable number compared to recent concerts here by Norah Jones, Avril Lavigne and Velvet Revolver, which drew about 5,000 people each.

Like Cher, Midler attracted a large number of gay fans, and, at one point, she encouraged the lesbian contingent from Seguin to "Show us your mullets!"

Unlike Cher, Midler can make a costume change in a flash, disdains disco and, at 58 years old (she turns 59 on Dec. 1), can keep up with pogo dancing skater punk juggernaut Lavigne — dressed in a mermaid suit, no less. And boy can she talk.

But she's more than just a sassy mouth and flashy duds. It goes beyond the powerful and seductive voice, which is comfortable with retro '40s swing, boogie-woogie or full-bore rock.

Midler is perhaps the last practitioner of the dramatic, nervous, compelling onstage delivery that made Judy Garland such a mesmerizing figure.

Beneath the chutzpah is a convincing balladeer who breaks hearts when she bends her neck back and reaches for the highest note, searching for the last drop of emotion from a lyric.

Such was the case in Midler's loving homage to Rosemary Clooney on classics "Hey There" and "Tenderly." And who would have expected a touching video-aided duet with Mr. Rogers?

But Sunday's audience will likely equally cherish the bawdier humor of this multi-media concert, set on an elaborate stage recalling Coney Island's old boardwalk. For example, Midler trashed Britney Spears in wicked video parody, "The Britney Bunch," set to the "Brady Bunch" theme.

But she poked fun at herself, too. She sang Brenda Lee's "I'm Sorry" as penance for her flop TV sitcom, "Bette."

Backed by a 13-piece band, which included a five-man horn section, plus the Electrifying Harlettes, three singing dancers/cancan girls, Midler outdid most Broadway musicals with her Dolores Del Lago tale.

Midler and the Electrifying Harlettes performed in tight mermaid suits, often navigating dance moves while riding motorized wheelchairs. At times, they hopped about to create Busby Berkeley choreography.

There also were supreme renditions of "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," "Skylark," "From a Distance," "Wind Beneath My Wings," "Do You Wanna Dance?" "When a Man Loves a Woman" and "The Rose." But from the moment Midler hit the stage riding atop a suspended carousel horse, there was no doubt this was one of the must-see shows of the year.