At Last (1977)
Billboard peak: # 49
Tracks: "Backstage" - "Friends / Oh My My" -
"Bang, You're Dead" - "Birds" - "Comic
Relief" - "In The Mood" - "Hurry On Down"
- "Shiver Me Timbers" - "Vicki Eydie Show / Around
The World / Istanbul / Fiesta In Rio / South Seas" - "Intermission:
You're Moving Out Today" - "Delta Dawn" - "Long
John Blues" - "Those Wonderful Sophie Tucker Jokes"
- "Story Of Nanette / Nanette / Alabama Song / Drinking Again
Mr. Rockefeller" - "Fried Eggs" - "Hello In
There" - "Finale: Up The Ladder To The Roof / Boogie Woogie
Bugle Boy / Friends"
To Audio Samples
Unknown, Mitch Cohen (1977)
is danger now for any woman musical comedy star that she will begin 'to give her
screaming fans what they want, not realizing that much malice and how much bad
taste are mixed with their worship."
Kael wrote that about Barbra Streisand but it is a warning with particular relevance
to Bette Midler. The promise was a woma n with humor, intensity, and the widest
possible pop music range, and you can still hear that woman on "Live At Last;
She's hip enough to include both Tom Waits and Bertold Brecht in her repertoire
and to resurrect frivolous Hit Parade antiques with vivacity and affection. Her
ideas about the unity of pop experience are good, and her oddball medleys well
executed. She's also one-of- the-guys bawdy-funny, "and this is the first
album to capture that. But she settles for too little, pandering to the easily
won-over audience, camping it up, playing a 1970's floozie-bitch for easy laughs.
The possibility is-and at least she seems aware of it: a section of her act is
devoted to a fantasy of becoming a "Vicki Eydie" lounge singer doing
a "global revue" - that image and schmaltz will overtake her, and make
her no more than a joke.
At Last" is a very accurate document; this is what Midler is: alternately
flippant and histrionic, a crowd-pleaser, Miss Personality with a bleat of a voice
that, depending on material and mood, can be effective or irritating. She's often
breathlessly busy on the fast numbers, and mannered on the slow ones, but there
is a middle ground-on "Shiver Me Timbers" and parts of The Story Of
Nanette song cycle-and it's there that Midler does her best serious work. The
four sides, recorded at. a Cleveland engagement (there's one studio track with
a bad case of cutes, give her room to show off the range of her merchandise. Her
taste runs to the sentimental, the dramatic, and the quaint, and her song choices
vary widely. Brecht & Weill, Leiber & Stoller and Dietz & Schwartz,
all brilliant composing teams, have to share time with Klingman & Linhart,
perpetrators of the wretched "Friends," Midler's theme song and albatross.
on novelty numbers, Midler is a barely adequate singer, but she barrells through
cabaret, rock, ballads and big band songs - we're spared her desecration of Dylan
and girl groups - on pure energy. Even with the visual element missing you can
hear how hard she works. Energy, along with hoked-up emotion, however, added to
an already exaggerated show-biz style, could push her irrevocably into the wrong
direction; the one suggested by the resemblance of the LP's cover picture to the
Jayne Mansfield shot on "Hollywood Babylon:a sexual caricature, amusing to
gays who like cartoon women with their nerve ends exposed. Was it only a few years
ago that some of our saner critics were comparing her to the Beatles? Will she
now be satisfied to be a Jewish Liza Minnelli with funnier lines, better song
selection and bigger tits?
Guide, Robert Christgau
fans may find some of the material on this live double-LP repetitious--I could
do without five minutes of "Delta Dawn" myself--and her overripe singing
will offend those she offends anyway. But she's never recorded fifteen of these
twenty-five songs, a few repeats are enhanced by the particulars of this performance,
and others gather meaning in theatrical context. A typical stroke: prefacing the
glorious tearjerker "Hello in There" with campy, occasionally unkind
patter about ladies with fried eggs on their heads, so that the song's romanticized
heroine and the weird and depressing fried egg ladies both seem to have something
in common with Bette, and therefore with each other. A-
Potter, Q Magazine
Midler correctly informs the Live At Last audience that she has been "blessed
talent and gorgeous tits". She omits to mention her beautifully expressive
voice, equally at ease belting out In The Mood or breathing Tom Waits's ethereal
Shiver Me Timbers, and this 1977 release showcases her aptitude for mixing straightforward
songs, comic skits and vulgar jokes with dizzying speed and effortless timing.