Live at Last

Bette Midler

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Live at Last Review

by Joe Viglione

The double-LP live album phenomenon was utilized in 1973 on Around the World With Three Dog Night to collect loads of hits and release them in another format. Three years later, Bob Seger's Live Bullet, J. Geils Band's Blow Your Face Out, and Frampton Comes Alive solidified the double disc as a way to bring important rock artists to the forefront. Come 1977, the Rolling Stones' Love You Live failed to live up to their single disc Get Your Ya Ya's Out or any of the brilliant bootleg performances of theirs proliferating. In the middle of all this arrives the very strong in-concert artist, Bette Midler, with her fourth album for Atlantic. This undated (probably 1976) performance from the Cleveland Music Hall, Cleveland, OH, does a decent job of capturing the magic of Midler. Having a show stretched across four sides was essential for this performer; the brilliance of her rendition of the Supremes' 1970 hit "Up the Ladder to the Roof" takes it out of the Motown context and brings it to Midler's Andrews Sisters world of girl group devotion. Segueing into a driving "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" answers the question asked in the opening medley of her signature tune, "Friends," with Ringo Starr's "Oh My My," Midler being astonished that anyone would ask the question if she can boogie. Another live LP, Divine Madness, was released only three years after this when she was riding her fame from the film The Rose, and that single disc concentrated on the comedienne's song performances ("Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" gets reprised there), while 1985's single disc Mud Will Be Flung Tonight gave the fans her funny bits; thankfully with four sides of music and fun, Live at Last is allowed to run the gamut. With an adult contemporary (dare it be said, Vegas-style) act like Bette Midler, the sad thing is that bootlegs and live tapes don't proliferate. It's a shame, as she has lots to offer on every show, and when you think about it, only one double-live disc in a career this rich and this lengthy is unfair to both the artist and her fans. There are some brilliant moments here; along with "Up the Ladder to the Roof," her version of Johnny Mercer's "I'm Drinking Again" is better than the studio take on her self-titled second disc. "Delta Dawn" is wonderful, as are the up-tempo "Do You Wanna Dance" and John Prine's "Hello in There." Midler performs Neil Young's "Birds," tells raunchy jokes so cliché that they depend upon her brilliant delivery, and has her personality captured in audio form splendidly. There's a very interesting "intermission" which features a Tom Dowd studio production of "You're Moving out Today," a tune written by Bruce Roberts, Midler, and Carole Bayer Sager, who simultaneously released a studio version the same year. It was a neat trick sliding it onto this release. Live at Last has lots to offer and has yet to be appreciated as the pure document that it is. Atlantic should be given a thumbs up for giving their performer the chance to artistically breathe here. A similarly misunderstood Top 40 artist from this era was the Guess Who, and it took 30 years for that group's pivotal 1972 Live at the Paramount album to get the full treatment. Luckily for fans of Midler, she -- and they -- were spared the indignity that may have cost the Guess Who serious FM radio time. Classic stuff exists in the grooves of Live at Last. [The label did release a single-disc promo-only version to radio which contained highlights.]

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