Bette Midler, Barclaycard Arena, Birmingham - gig review: The Divine Miss M still has it

Her first UK gig for 37 years was marvellous

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The Independent Culture

They arrived by the coach load and the trainload, they packed the picturesque banks of the canals near the sold-out venue and laughed when the Hawaiian-born superstar they had come to see riffed on the Midlands/Midler alliteration.

No wonder Bette Midler felt right at home on the opening night of her first ever UK tour, an object lesson in how to take New York sass and Broadway sets as well as Las Vegas and Hollywood showbiz magic into the European concert arena. A projection on the proscenium arch switched from a knowing Midler muscling in on Michaelangelo's Creation Of Adam to a tornado montage, an apt metaphor for the whirlwind 100 minutes that followed.

Wearing a short pink dress closer to a négligé – a practical choice enabling the comédienne to sing harmony and dance alongside her three backing vocalists – she quipped ''I Look Good'', referenced Fifty Shades of Grey a propos of a section of her audience, and rolled back the years with a sublime, sultry rendition of ''Do You Want To Dance'', the '60s standard she made her own on The Divine Miss M, her 1972 Grammy-winning debut for Atlantic Records. As her voice soared on the song's middle eight, she remarked it was her favourite part, a neat trick highlighting her prowess as an interpreter, a constant throughout her career and a major part of her appeal. Indeed, she could easily have extended the wonderful hat trick from It's The Girls, her current covers album, comprising her take on The Exciters' '60s hit ''Tell Him'', ''Bei Mir Bistu Shein'' – “are there any Jews in Birmingham?” she adlibbed – and a moving update of TLC's mid-'90s R&B smash ''Waterfalls'', another early highlight.

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Bette Midler performing at Birmingham's Barclaycard Arena

She packed so much into a contrasting, constantly moving, cleverly-structured show, occasionally shooting fish in a barrel with references to the Kardashians, Jeremy Clarkson and David Dickinson, yet justified her rant about the evils of social media with an apposite version of Leonard Cohen's ''Everybody Knows''. Longstanding fans enjoyed the burlesque and comedy routines, the costume changes and the film homage to Delores Delago – her legendary mermaid in a wheelchair act 'borrowed' by Lady Gaga – but she really brought the mobile phones out with the superlative ''The Rose'' and ''Stay With Me'', and the inevitable ''Wind Beneath My Wings'', drawing every ounce of meaning from a repertoire that long ago transcended its middle of the road origins. Reprising ''Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy'', the Andrews Sisters' clarion call, tied everything up with a neat bow, though she actually left us wanting more.

37 years since she appeared for a week at the London Palladium – she has been back since for the Royal Variety Performance – the Divine Miss M wondered why she had not ventured further afield then or since. Not content with showing Madonna and Kylie Minogue how to do it, she is certainly making up for lost time. Marvellous.

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