Washington, D.C.
MCI Center
January 23, 2004

Midler sassier, saltier than ever
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 simultaneously.

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 retire.

Tearing Up the Hall
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 bawling.

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 hometown girl.

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 penance.

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 than personalities.

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.

Somewhat fair to MIDLER
The Washington Times
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

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."

Midler's post-intermission 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.