The Divine Miss M (Bette Midler in concert)

Saturday was a bit of a special day, as Laurie and I wandered down to San Jose Arena (aka HP Pavilion, aka Compaq Place, aka, well, oh, never mind) for Bette Midler’s Kiss My Brass tour concert.

I’ve seen Midler in concert before, a long time ago in a galaxy far away (in a previous life, when I was small and green and really wrinkled), and she’s a great show. I’ve been a fan of hers for a long time. You might be familiar with her for her portrayal of a character much like Janis Joplin in The Rose, and if you haven’t seen that movie, go find it and watch it (but be prepared to be depressed as hell). Her new album honors Rosemary Clooney, a wonderful reflection of her roots in the field.

But if that’s how you know Bette, you simply won’t understand the kind of show she takes on tour. Her early start was here in the Bay Area, doing, effectively, the gay bathhouse circuit. Her shows have a strong attachment back to classic theater works like the Broadway reviews of the 30’s and 40’s. Combine the two, and you have an evening of serious music and not so serious, rather bawdy and topical humor. For instance, at one point, she digressed into her views about the current political climate, and trust me, she’s not voting for Bush in the next election (and neither, clearly, is her audience). Janet’s boob, J’lo’s love life, and the war in Iraq all got put in the crossfires. As did Bette herself — always willing to throw herself on a joke to save her audience, she did a wonderful send up of herself, and her flop of a TV series, in a piece with (I kid you not) Judge Judy (on vidoe) and a guy in a CBS eye costume, which ends with her punching out the eye and being sentenced to having to apologize to every person who ever watched her TV show personally.

And then she comes out on stage to sing I’m sorry, i devil’s horns and a tail. Only she can’t finish the song, not straight. Of course.

The best way to define the Divine Miss M is a line she used during the show. She looked out at the audience and said something like:

You know, these days, it seems you can’t become a singing star unless you dress up like a whore!
And do they call me up and thank me? Nooooo!

She also did a duet with Mr. Rogers (yes, that Mr. Rogers), and opened up after the intermission with her latest Delores Del Lagos piece. This is a continuing theme with her, Delores being one of her characters, the epitomy of everything you could hate about Las Vegas Lounge lizards in all their glory. Delores does a nautical act, complete with mermaid’s tail, navigating around the stage in an electric wheel chair. blissfully tacky, wonderful stuff.

In this show, Bette revisits Delores in Fishtails above Broadway, in which Delores takes on the Broadway stage (and flops miserably), and given one last chance, re-invents herself (did you see the Julie Andrews movie SOB? No, pretty much nobody did, but it ties back to Janet’s boobie…), and goes on to do a Broadway review.

Which has to be seen to be believed, if you’ll believe it by seeing it. Bette goes way over the top as she and her Harlettes strap on the garter belts and bowler hats for a quick riff of Fosse (actually, they take on Fosse and Busby Berkeley at the same time; god help me, they do), then a quick snip of Chorus Line, and for the grand finale, you have Delores herself just completely demolish Carol Channing doing the Hello, Dolly entrance down the grand staircase.

Now remember, during this entire time, Bette and the Harletts are in full mermaid fins, either in wheelchairs, or madly hopping about the stage.

I swear to god the woman sitting next to me was laughing so hard she wet herself. Or came awful close.

Great entertainment, great energy, her backup band was awesome, and Bette really put a lot of herself into the concert; no opening act (who’s you get to do that?), about 2 and a half hours of concert, and it starts in high gear and ramps up from there.

If you get a chance, see it. It may not be guns & roses, but, you know? that’s another reason to recommend it…