Anaheim, CA
Arrowhead Pond
February 22, 2004

Ever the ingenue
Youth blooms eternal in Bette Midler's funny and tender concert.
By Robert Hilburn, Times Staff Writer
Photo: BaltoBoy Steve

February 24 2004

How fitting that Bette Midler comes on stage during her first tour in four years all dressed up like little Shirley Temple, curls and all, riding an amusement park carousel pony.

Her concerts have always been about being young at heart, but never more so than Sunday at the Arrowhead Pond in a show that, in typical Midler fashion, was both savagely funny and disarmingly tender.

When this creative spark plug arrived on the scene three decades ago, she was in her 20s, but she seemed much older because so much of her pop-culture vision was drawn from earlier eras.

During a time when most of the pop-rock world was taking itself awfully seriously after the heady social change of the '60s, Midler became one of our most unlikely stars by using everything from ancient vaudeville routines to an old Andrew Sisters song to remind us that no generation is free from human foibles.

By getting us to laugh at ourselves, her message, ultimately, was as liberating as a great Bob Dylan song.

At 58, Midler still uses many of the same old-school theatrical devices and even the old songs, but she does so in ways that showcase more than ever the sweet innocence and optimism of youth. It's at once her most ambitiously staged yet most intimate arena performance.

When she sang one of her earliest hits Sunday, the fun-packed "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," she moved about with more energy and desire than she did when the song was a hit in 1973. The audience could make the comparison when old footage of her doing the same song was shown on overhead video screens as she performed it.

In another engaging moment, Midler seemed more vulnerable and girlish than ever when singing along, via video clip, with Mr. Rogers, the comforting children's TV show host who died a year ago this week.

Don't think, however, that Midler has lost her satirical bite. During the 2 1/2-hour show, which moves to Staples Center tonight, Midler touches on topics ranging from President Bush and Rush Limbaugh to Viagra and gay marriages.

The subjects may be predictable, but her takes are sharp and fresh. Who ever thought disco would be replaced by matrimony, she joked at one point.

She also has fun with her own trashy image, boasting that she opened the door for singers with bad taste, then complaining wryly that she hasn't gotten even one thank you note from Christina Aguilera or Janet Jackson. She also makes fun of her own misadventures, employing Judge Judy in a video sequence that finds the TV jurist scolding Midler for her failed 2001 attempt at a TV sitcom.

In keeping with the youthful, nostalgic theme of the "Kiss My Brass" tour, the stage setting conveys the festive nature of a Coney Island fun zone, but it could really be anyplace where young hearts run free.

For all the emphasis on humor, including more of those bawdy, Sophie Tucker-style jokes, Midler and her aggressive 10-piece band spend an equal amount of time on music. Which is a mixed blessing.

Midler isn't a classic pop singer. She has vocal power but not a lot of nuance. There is a stiff harshness to her voice that limits her effectiveness on songs that require more measured treatment, such as "Skylark" and "Hey There."

She is most effective when she employs her instincts as an actress to pump tunes into larger-than-life exercises, as on "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" and her passionate, foot-stomping version of the R&B standard "When a Man Loves a Woman."

After intermission, Midler introduced us to her most inspired creation: Delores DeLago, the free spirit who won't let the fact that she's a mermaid stop her from pursuing her show-biz goals. "I may be a freak," she says when her future looks darkest. "But I'm a freak with a dream."

When she then jumps into her electric wheelchair and spins around the stage at full speed, it's one of the most irresistible moments in pop culture. She and her three singers-dancers, the Staggering Harlettes, then take their theater revue to Broadway and deliver a hit, thanks to such customized tunes as the cornball "Everything's Coming Up Fishtails."

After the theatrics, Midler focuses on her inspirational hits, including "From a Distance" and "Wind Beneath My Wings." While those songs are too melodramatic for some tastes, "The Rose" is, after all these years, her defining number.

Though written for a film patterned loosely after tragic rocker Janis Joplin, the song, with its promise of a comforting spring after a troubled winter, serves as the ideal expression of the innocence and hope that underlie Midler's every move on stage.

In introducing the number, she personalizes it by alluding to the nation's own troubled winter and longed-for better days to come. It was a reminder that she, too, is a child of the '60s, and that for all the lighthearted times she has given us, she wants us to remember the ideals of that time.

Thanks To Anna and Chaz for sending this in:

Anna: We waited for her limo in the rain but there was only 4 of us and she didn't stop but we waved and yelled I love you!

But onto the nite: It was one of the harlettes birthdays, so she sang "Happy Birthday." She sang "Friends"; she was thrilled that the crowd was good becuase she said she gets nervous playing in LA

Photo: BaltoBoy Steve

She was like "I had no idea I was so big in Anaheim!"

She also said "thank you for coming out instead of watching the last episode of "Sex In The City"...even though I know you're all tivo-ing it and you can't wait to get home...
"I don't think she'll end up with either one of those guys"

She cut some Bush jokes unfortunately! (Orange County is very conservative) she said OC is like "the only county with 2 right wings."

She said, "Wow here i am in OC...God I love that show...leave it to FOX to bring tits and ass to prime time. but not only is it tits and ass, it's tits and ass with family values!"

She said she used to live in Laguna so it was like coming back home but said "then they had to RUIN it and put up that 14 lane highway."

You Can Bette On It
She's still in top vocal form, and the Divine Miss M's latest spectacle proves to be her best show yet.
by Ben Wener
Orange County Register, February 24, 2004

The first thing you notice -- you can't help but notice -- is her age. Or, rather, how beautifully and vigorously she defies it.

Bette Midler is nearly three months past 58, a few years shy of Streisand and about half a year ahead of Cher. Yet none of her contemporaries, save for the now-retired Tina Turner, looks so naturally vibrant and performs with as much sassy energy.

Midler may joke about getting on in years: "Two numbers in and I need CPR... What's gonna happen when I turn 40?" But, then, as a knowing audience was reminded during her smashing show Sunday night at Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim, she jokes about everything; her spirit is as much embodied by self-effacing vaudeville-era star Fanny Brice as it is, say, classy jazz vocalist Rosemary Clooney, to whom Midler paid tribute with her latest album.

The truth, however, is that the incomparable Midler remains unfailingly plucky, smiling and hopeful even during what she considers a "national winter of the soul." Above all, she remains youthful beneath her nest of blond curls, despite her dismay at how far from traditionalism pop music has fallen or how little credit she gets from Britney and Christina for having "opened the door for trashy singers with big (breasts). They owe me!"

Indeed. And now more than ever, they could do with lessons from the Divine Miss M, a true original who keeps cabaret and burlesque and the Great American Songbook alive by making them current, ensuring that their appeal transcends generations.

That said, the second thing you notice about Bette Midler -- probably around the time her mermaid character Delores Delago emerges -- is that after 30 years her shows really haven't changed much.

It's a familiar routine: She opens with her latest theme, shifts to nostalgia, pauses for jokes, then a few teary slow ones and finally some bawdy Sophie Tucker shtick, accompanied by her teasing backing singers, the Harlettes. After the break, we catch up with Delores, then Midler goes into her big hit ballads and showstoppers. Encore with "The Rose" and goodnight.

Only the elaborate staging seems different each time. For this outing, she chose a fantasy amusement-park motif, with a backdrop that was a cross between Sleeping Beauty's castle at Disneyland and Coney Island circa 1900. Thus, Midler entered and exited via a flying carousel pony.

But regardless of any predictability, Midler's new Kiss My Brass Tour, which stops again tonight at Staples Center, may be her most enjoyable extravaganza, its edgier humor and less-maudlin song selection putting it ahead of her Y2K-themed outing in '99.

For one, the music wasn't so Streisand-like. Infused with Clooney's sense for material, Midler dipped into the past for the Hoagy Carmichael/Johnny Mercer classic "Skylark" as well as her playful revival of the Andrews Sisters' staple "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy." She further saluted Clooney with a smooth coupling of "Come on-a My House" and "Hey There," the latter bolstered by a collage of archival pictures of the late singer.

Best of all was how Midler wrapped up the first half of her two-hour performance, with robust (if overly dramatic) versions of three more gems: Randy Newman's lonesome "I Think It's Going to Rain Today"; Percy Sledge's signature tune, "When a Man Loves a Woman"; and, most movingly, Tom Waits' "Shiver Me Timbers," a deathly piece that could turn depressing in the wrong hands. (Expert Midler made it bittersweet.)

Amid this were jokes that fans surely are still retelling. Among her targets: The O.C. ("where all the birds have two right wings"), gay marriage, Rush Limbaugh and, inevitably, Janet Jackson's Super Bowl exposure ("Didn't that thing look like a door knocker? That's the first time I've seen a knocker on a knocker!").

If only the second half of Midler's show had been as rousing as the first. As it was, the Delores Delago segment, a sendup of starry-eyed Broadway dreamers, went on too long. The barrage of bad seafood puns stuffed in songs like "All That Jazz" and "Hello, Dolly!" quickly grew tiresome, especially knowing that oft-heard bits like "From a Distance" and "The Wind Beneath My Wings" would follow.

A spirited encore of tunes from "The Rose" only made the Delago portion seem more superfluous. Maybe it's time Midler sent Delores to her watery grave and mixed things up in her second act.

If that sounds too assured that she'll keep touring past 60, well, seems to me there's reason to be optimistic. There undoubtedly will be more live delights from this treasure chest. "I'm not retiring," Midler proclaimed Sunday night. "And you can't make me."

Wouldn't dare try, Miss M.