sassier, saltier than ever
BY MELISSA RUGGIERI
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
Monday, January 26, 2004
WASHINGTON Imagine a world
without entertainers. Not stoic musicians who mope onstage and croon
insightful, serious songs. But entertainers, performers, people
who can sing and tell jokes and dance in gaudy costumes - sometimes
Imagine a world without those
folks and imagine hard, because it isn't far away. With Cher saying
goodbye sometime before the next millennium, Tina Turner hunkered
down in Europe and Liza Minnelli struggling for her 83rd career
revival since 1978, there aren't many genuine pop stars still willing
- or capable - of delivering a slam-bang spectacle night after night.
Photo: BaltoBoy Steve
What it takes is the chutzpah
of Bette Midler, who becomes sassier and saltier as her 30-year-plus
career ages. Her 2-month-old "Kiss My Brass" tour, which
played the MCI Center in D.C. on Friday and comes to the Hampton
Coliseum on March 6, is projected to rake in $50 million by its
wrap at the end of March. Her top ticket price in most markets hovers
around $125, and while still an exorbitant fare, Midler practically
draws blood earning her salary.
Her arrival midair on a carousel
pony was fittingly Bette: "I have returned!" she proclaimed
with a toss of Shirley Temple curls bouncing under a sailor's hat.
"I'm here to announce that I'm not retired, and you can't make
me!" She jittered across the stage, a nonstop whirl, while
brass players from the Royal Crown Revue encircled her, blaring
their "Hey Pachuco," which has been Midler-fied with new
lyrics and renamed "Kiss My Brass.'
Huffing along a Coney Island boardwalk-themed stage, Midler barked
a barrage of one-liners, often working blue and tailoring many jokes
to the city of the night, as she's done all tour ("Manassas,
show me your mullets!"). She also proved herself fearless in
spouting political beliefs. "I might not be able to run the
world, but I couldn't [bleep] it up any more than the [bleeps] running
it now," she gleefully announced to rapturous applause. Then,
"D.C., home of some of the most brilliant minds on the planet.
I only wish the president was one of them."
Oh, and there were songs, too.
Midler and her infamous Harlettes - those three mischievous backup
singers - dashed through "Stuff Like That There" and the
snappy G.I ode "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy." The increasingly
tiny Midler showcased her vulnerable side - and yes, even this New
York yenta (by way of New Jersey and Hawaii) has one - with the
Johnny Mercer-Hoagy Carmichael standard, "Skylark." And
one of the evening's highlights came on a video duet with children's
hero Fred Rogers on the gentle "I Like to Be Told."
Self-deprecation also is a
Midler trait. She joked that the Britneys of the pop landscape have
never thanked her for paving the way ("Hey, I opened the door
for mediocre singers with bad taste and big [breasts]"), then
shared a hilarious video featuring Judge Judy and a mock trial related
to her failed 2000 sitcom "Bette!", which Midler famously
trashed on David Letterman's show.
Midler, 58, is touring in support
of her album of Rosemary Clooney standards, yet just one, "Hey
There," made it into the two-hour set. Midler's voice naturally
contains an old-fashioned lilt, which was perfectly suited to the
big band arrangement. She also approaches her song as an actress
would; you felt her passion in "When a Man Loves a Woman,"
saw the deserted boardwalk and the gloomy sky in "I Think It's
Gonna Rain Today" and were moved to misty eyes on Tom Waits'
"Shiver Me Timbers."
After a too-long intermission
of nearly 30 minutes, Midler returned with some old friends - Delores
DeLago and her motorized wheelchair mermaids, this time offering
corny, but cute, Broadway tunes with a fishy angle ("All That
Shad" stood in for "All That Jazz"). It's shtick
that never grows stale, but it could stand to be trimmed.
From that silly bombast, Midler
moved to a stool placed alone on stage. The seductive "Do You
Want To Dance?", the peace-baiting "From a Distance"
and the obligatory "Wind Beneath My Wings" all stoked
the crowd of about 15,000 into ovations, and there was much to applaud.
Midler is wicked, fun and a
tireless performer. Praise the divine powers that she refuses to
Tearing Up the
By Dave McKenna
Special to The Washington Post
Bette Midler has a genius for
tear-jerking. She flaunted that skill, and so many others, Friday
at MCI Center, where she brought her "Kiss My Brass" tour.
Photo: BaltoBoy Steve
Not long after riding into
the arena on a white horse, Midler got the crying started with Randy
Newman's "I Think It's Going to Rain Today." In fairness
to Newman, that hyper-dreary tune, which mulls over friendlessness
and life's cruelty, could leave Genghis Khan misty-eyed. But it
takes a special gift to reprise such familiar schlock as "Wind
Beneath My Wings" and "From a Distance," which after
all these years have become essentially the same song, and still
incite enough gushing to impress Exxon. Midler has such a gift.
Even her quiet-storm rendition of "Do You Wanna Dance,"
the Sam Cooke classic that she slowed down to a crawl, left 'em
Midler is much more than a
soft touch, however. While catching her breath between songs, she
threw haymakers at righty politicos, including President Bush, Vice
President Cheney and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, and offered a
devastating routine on Rush Limbaugh -- "fat" and "stupid"
were about the kindest words she had for the troubled radio talker.
She also reeled off a number of one-liners written just for the
D.C. gig -- she got roars for a Joe Gibbs reference and her mocking
of the Wizards, Dan Snyder and anybody from Manassas. The Hawaii-reared
Midler, being a consummate showman, sold every punch line like a
She doesn't mind being the
butt of the joke, either. Midler, a big-screen veteran, failed miserably
in her attempt to conquer TV Land with the CBS sitcom "Bette."
During a break in the concert, a video lambasted the short-lived
show before Midler reappeared and sang "I'm Sorry" as
The 58-year-old diva also took
time to pat herself on the back, and elsewhere, for still looking
so blatantly divine after such a long time in the spotlight. ("I
and only I am ageless!") Midler then went after younger sexpots
Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears for not thanking her for "paving
the way for mediocre singers" with big, well, something other
Midler has gone out of her
way lately to pay respect to one of her primary influences, Rosemary
Clooney. She released a Clooney tribute CD, and has hinted she'll
ask the Grammy Awards to remove her from consideration for Best
Traditional Pop Album honors because Clooney, who died in 2002,
is up for honors in the same category. Backed by a big band, Midler
crooned "Hey There" while the video screens showed a picture
of Clooney looking young and gorgeous.
Near the end of her 21/2 hours
onstage, Midler sang "The Rose," the title cut from her
1979 feature film debut, which was a quasi-homage to Janis Joplin.
The tune begins with the line "Some say love, it is a river
/ That drowns the tender reed." It's doubtful anybody in the
audience had ever really said that love is a river, or considered
a river's impact on the tender reed.
Yet there was no time to question
the couplet when Midler sang it. People were too busy mouthing the
words, and reaching for their hankies.
fair to MIDLER
The Washington Times
By T.L. PONICK
Published January 26, 2004
Dressed in a snazzy satin sailor
suit and astride a spirited carousel steed descending swiftly from
the rafters, Bette Midler swooped into the MCI Center this Friday
past to the whoops and cheers of her adoring fans.
The Caps and the Wizards could
only hope for such a crowd. And the Divine Miss M gave 'em what
they came for --an appealing, raucous, and very New York fusion
of vaudeville shtick, corny jokes, and an eclectic song list ranging
from sentimental '50s ballads to golden Motown classics.
Photo: BaltoBoy Steve
Miss Midler is about halfway
through her "Kiss My Brass" national tour, which began
in Long Island's Nassau Coliseum on Jan. 3. The extravaganza includes
all the outrageous kitsch and campy jokes that have made her famous
since her bathhouse days in New York. With a gaudy set modeled on
the fading boardwalks of New York and New Jersey, her show is a
Coney Island of the mind, and it touches all the right buttons for
those of a certain age -- and for those who wish they were.
Miss Midler's in-your-face
comedy routines and terrific song delivery lit up an otherwise cold
and chilly Washington weekend. Few can deliver the guts of a song
with her power and conviction. She's the working-class girl next
door who can express your emotions better than you can. With the
assistance of the latest incarnation of her backup singers, The
Harlettes, and a hot live band of top jazz and rock musicians, including
a particularly mean brass section, she filled MCI's cavernous space
with a selection of songs ranging from Rosemary Clooney's "Hey,
There" to a mind-blowing rendition of the old Percy Sledge
classic "When a Man Loves a Woman."
Interspersed with the musical
numbers were humorous monologues and musical-comedy skits, including
a video trial before Judge Judy and a great Broadway mermaid revue
that opened the second half of the show. \\
Her best comic bit of the evening
was her colorful put-down of slutty pop tarts Britney Spears and
Christina Aguilera. An indignant Miss Midler denounced the girl
singers' tawdry, let-it-all-hang-out costuming as trash. But she
was most offended that she hadn't even been sent a thank-you note,
complaining, "Hey, I opened the door to trash." She also
acknowledged her prominent homosexual fan base by greeting her friends
from the District's "Bouffant Circle."
Unfortunately, political trash
was also in abundance early in the show's first stanza, all of it
aimed at the Bushies. Miss Midler lit into them all, particularly
Vice President Dick Cheney, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, and the
president himself with the kind of spluttering, righteous fury that
only a lifelong leftist can muster.
Low blows in the second half
were mostly reserved for "poor, fat, stupid, hypocritical,
drug-addicted" Rush Limbaugh -- remarks that seemed to have
been cribbed from one of Al Franken's or Michael Moore's post-Marxist
screeds. So much for liberal compassion.
All in all, you can see why
Miss Midler packs them in. Her show, while extravagant and eccentric,
never descends to the tasteless vulgarity of a Michael Jackson.
She knows exactly where to plant a song and how to pitch it. Her
energy and moves are still terrific, even as she loudly complains
of post-menopausal angst. And she knows exactly who her audience
is and genuinely loves to give them what they want, an art that
many of today's entertainers seem to have forgotten.
It would have been nice, however,
if her political humor -- particularly post-September 11 -- had
been a bit more balanced, a bit more nuanced in this grudgingly
bipartisan town. But in today's entertainment industry, which ironically
boasts of more wealthy leftists than any community on this planet,
that's probably too much to ask.
Bette Midler inspires
tears and laughter
January 29, 2004 1:09 am
By LAURA L. HUTCHISON
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
Bette Midler's new "Kiss
My Brass" concert tour is part stand-up comedy, part retrospective,
part phenomenal music, and all a whole lot of fun.
Midler, who has been performing
for more than 30 years, brought her first- ever tour with a horn
section to the MCI Center Friday night. The tour goes to the Hampton
Coliseum March 6.
At MCI, the stage was filled
with a boardwalk scene, complete with a curtain painted with a 1940s
boardwalk image. Midler--who always makes an entrance--flew to the
stage on a carousel horse. With horns blaring and the band shouting,
"Hey, Bette Midler," she opened the show with the new
song "Kiss My Brass."
"I have returned,"
she announced, to the cheers of the crowd. "How are you, D.C.?
I'm fabulous. Don't I look it? Even I don't know how I do it."
As the band played behind her,
she riffed on President Bush and his recent State of the Union address.
She also took shots at Rush Limbaugh. The liberal Midler isn't a
fan of either man.
But she's willing to get as
good as she gives, at one point using a "Judge Judy" clip
to poke fun at her own television failure with the CBS series "Bette."
Judge Judy ordered her to apologize to everyone who's ever had a
television, and she appeared on stage wearing devil horns and a
tail and singing, "I'm Sorry."
And then there was the music.
Her first song after the opening was "Skylark," from her
second album, recorded in the '70s. She went into her first top-10
hit, "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," while clips of her singing
the song earlier in her career played on screens behind her.
From her early work to her
most recent, Midler launched into "Hey There," from "Bette
Midler Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook," a project she
did with one of her earliest collaborators, Barry Manilow.
"Rosemary's spirit was
in every note," Midler said of her newest album.
Midler's voice was crystal
clear and strong on "I Think It's Gonna Rain Today," from
her movie "Beaches." After her Soph and Clementine bawdy
vaudeville-type jokes, she ended the first half of the show with
a moving rendition of "Shiver Me Timbers."
act is often Delores DeLago, the Toast of Chicago, a mermaid who
wants to be a star and performs her singing and dancing show in
a motorized wheelchair. DeLago's show in this tour is "Fish
Tales Over Broadway," which includes songs such as "Everything's
Coming up Fishes," and a Fosse-esque "All That Shad."
Keeping perfect balance between
the lighthearted and serious parts of her show, Midler followed
DeLago with a tribute to Mr. Rogers, then a new song called "Reliving
September," about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"Another song, another
time, the same message: Peace on Earth," she said during the
opening notes of her next song, "From a Distance."
As the crowd pleaded for an
encore, a film clip from Midler's first movie, 1979's "The
Rose," began playing, and she came back to the stage to belt
out "Keep on Rockin'" and then "The Rose."
The 58-year-old Midler is a
consummate performer--singing, dancing and telling jokes--and her
fan base spans all ages and types of people.
There aren't many people her
age who can move the way Midler does during one of her concerts--from
dancing to hopping around in a mermaid suit. Her voice is as strong
as ever, and she can still hit every high note in every song.
Throughout the concert, Midler
kept assuring fans, "I'm not retiring, and you can't make me."
Her fans hope the Divine Miss M will continue entertaining them
for a long time to come.