Ignore the rather operatic outfit Kate Bush wears in most of the publicity shots that went along with her first live shows - under the banner of 'Before the Dawn' - in 35 years. The wonderfully evocative shot of Kate in a lifejacket floating on the waves (and in which state she actually recorded a complete song, played at the gig on a giant screen) - yeah, ignore that as well. Because what do I remember of Kate Bush videos from my youth? I remember this half-dressed whirlwind of a witch swirling across the screen screaming joy and spitting lilting melodies at me - that's what!
Of course, the mind plays tricks. Kate Bush was just as likely to be found in full army gear and a futuristic 'Babooshka' outfit. But for me - for my innocent mind - I thought she was an actual witch, before I even started considering the difference between a good or a bad one. In fact - I reckon she still is a witch of some kind. The climax of this show proves it.
Nobody really knows why Kate Bush suddenly stopped touring at the end of the 70s. There are rumours: stage fright, the tragic death of a stagehand, exhaustion, celebrity stalkers, raising a son. Who knows. The good things is - no, the most astounding and miraculous thing is - she was back this year for another round.
Fans responded ecstatically in March 2014 to the news. A 22 dates residency at the Hammersmith Apollo that sold out as good as immediately. Those who had already signed up their devotion through a fan club newsletter got in first. Bizarre outfits and fitting sartorial tributes were stitched (a friend of mine wore a tattered red dress with a customised army helmet, just so you know). All kinds of rumours hit the media - and most were true: multiple tickets that had to be collected only by the named person who purchased them with ID to prove it; a bid to kill off the ticket touts. There was also a plea - a polite one, announced by Kate Bush herself - for fans to keep their phones out of sight at the gig and not to film anything, at all.
After all the expectation, all the hysterical clamouring for tickets - it came down to this: could she still cut it live? Could Kate Bush even still sing on stage - or get to hit the high notes? With a theatrical show that included undersea fishbone-headed creatures parading the stage, satirical skits on floating suburban homes, clinging for dear life to floating buoys bobbing around in rough seas (never less than entirely convincing and fully realised) and numerous gorgeous visual backdrops of red sunsets, dark mystical moons and oil on canvas landscapes; the answer could only have been: yes of course she can (still do whatever she wants and make it happen). What other singer can have punk rockers standing up from their seats (in front of me, one almost pogoed, but then Johnny Rotten is Kate's most famous punk era fan) while other contemporaries - such as Mark E. Smith from The Fall (who is just as electrifying live) - today still prickle at her relentless deification.
|ARMY DREAMER, ON THE WAY HOME!|
|'BEFORE THE DAWN' - KB MEMORABILIA!|
The audience at the Apollo is restless; few stay seated for long - any seating concerns are abandoned en masse for the tear-drenched finale of Cloudbusting in which the entire auditorium throbbed with joy and life and in which many looked to be singing along in some kind of tongues - one weird mass musical creature from the tortured mind of crazy Babooshka herself.
Early hits, such as Wuthering Heights and Wow, or The Man With The Child In His Eyes were discarded (though you sense from the vocal range on display tonight - that alternately soared or cascaded into a familiar low growl, that all those withering heights of old could have been approached with ease). Instead, Kate Bush started off quietly sitting at a piano with a few handpicked classics that included Hounds of Love, Running Up That Hill and Lily but sadly no Under the Ivy, (the B-side of Running Up That Hill and my own favourite), but hey - it didn't matter as this was the Kate Bush show and we still need recording artists as experimental as she still clearly is to be doing whatever they bloody well like. Recording and performing music that challenges expectations. That is always - as Richey Edwards from Manic Street Preachers once carved, bloodily, into his arm with a razor blade in front of a doubting press shortly before he disappeared for good, whereabouts still unknown - for real.
Go into the garden,
Go under the ivy,
Under the leaves,
Away from the party . .
Go under the ivy,
Under the leaves,
Away from the party . .
~ Under the Ivy/ Kate Bush
The main thrust of Kate's comeback gig focused on the second side (back when albums all took sides) of her frenzied 1985 epic Hounds of Love, entitled 'The Ninth Wave' (that includes Under Ice, Jig of Life and the sinister and genuinely frightening/ seriously demonic Waking the Witch). Then, after the interval, disc two (post-vinyl era - no more sides!) of 2005's spiritual, 24 hours on Earth-celebrating album Aerial, entitled 'A Sky of Honey' (that includes Sunset, Nocturn and the gorgeous ballad Somewhere in Between with its early, almost delirious refrain: 'It was just so beautiful', pretty much describing the rest of the song's giant racing heart of a paean to twilight; to the sweet light; the blue hour.
Add a new song - Tawny Moon, sung by son Bertie (who as good as persuaded his mother to perform these shows and sings with a quirky, aggressively fragile and precise voice not unlike his mum once used to get the world to take notice in her earlier days).
A few resounding encores included Among Angels (from 50 Words for Snow, and that dropped the Arena into a mesmerised, tearful solitude as Kate took the stage alone, voice and piano quietly soaring; her moment of deep soul and yearning love - a final hurricane-eyed peace before the storming encore) and then Cloudbusting and no fan - old or new really - could have gone away disgruntled after that. More like wired. As I left the Arena I walked passed a grinning Tracey Thorn (from Everything But The Girl and recent unmissable memoir: 'Bedsit Disco Queen') and looking no older - the same red lipstick and black fringed mass of hair you'd expect. I think I was grinning just as much as Thorn was, but like her, probably without even realising it.
|BEFORE THE DAWN © Ken McCay|
The night, of course (and easy to mock for those not fans of Kate's work; understandable even, in the midst of months of media hype) was all highly theatrical, defiantly demented and always astounding. The 'Ninth Wave' suite from Hounds of Love probably as good as live music gets - sung with a surreal frenzied beauty alongside genuinely unnerving visuals: a drowning body floating by under the ice has a group of rescuers hacking away at the transformed stage floor with ice picks or all-out darkness and a tormented trial of 'the witch' as rapidly drowning panic takes control, chills the blood. Dark and deliciously powerful, cinematic stuff (but leading up to a spiritual on-stage rebirth and rescue) - it's much more fun than a simple rehash of early hits (though come on - that would be fun too!).
"Two hands clap and there is a sound; what is the sound of one hand?' / 'One Hand Clapping' by Anthony Burgess
A frenzied Jig of Life and the refrain 'C'mon and let me live, girl' raises themes of fate, survival, cause and effect - perhaps ultimately it's a celebration of the thrill of existence that gets effortlessly (and workably) carried through into the second half of Before the Dawn, where a wooden walking puppet and the thrill of new sunsets and pervading spirit of nature racing through the body both entice and calm (vocal bird song from Kate bizarrely topping many of the startling things she has attempted throughout her career). The second half of Aerial remains a natural shift of the senses into pagan joy and an adaptation of the natural landscape around us in one long gulp - a rising of pure love (in friendship and family) and a natural immersion in the landscape, in just hours; in just one day.
Kate Bush could - as a gesture of defiance - one day return with smaller-staged gigs, perhaps running through entire past albums. And she should. The world needs more of this kind of sense-making madness and clawing lyrical beauty to be presented live. To end everything with the sold-out shows of Before the Dawn would be quite acceptable, but almost cruel.
Always a film-enthused and inspired recording artist (in early interviews Kate Bush would comment on how much she loved the video making process as it was 'like making a movie') it's when the famous opening lines taken from the classic 1957 British horror Night of the Demon flood the Arena with panic: "It's in the trees, it's coming ...' (and that leads to a hormone-reviving version of Running Up That Hill) that you just knew that something perfect, on this night, was going to happen. Even dear old Douglas Fairbanks would have been waving his walking stick, even if 'not well at all'.
And something perfect did happen. There are highlights on the night that any fan could pick as 'their moment'. For me (and more it terms of staging, because - it goes without saying - all the songs were electrifying and amazing and don't really need 'reviewing' by any critic out there), my 'shiver down the spine' moment came at the start of (and throughout) the first half of the show, with Kate Bush dressed in a 'Hammer House of Horror-like' witchy, feathery black dress, crouching on stage and staring back at us with an almost predatory pose.
Or it could have been the moment where the singer had a huge raven's wing draped, towards the end of the show's second half, across one arm. But I think I'll go with the very final, quite startling moment where she suddenly flies up into the air like a screaming banshee above the front seats (as if to say - 'that's it; I'm off; away into the night sky where I belong'). This unexpected flight takes place less than a second before the house lights go down and we lose sight of where the singer has flown to - or even if she ever came back down.
Kate Bush is still the warbling witch of old; the wild banshee; the futuristic Babooshka trooper - or the little girl who grew up to find a grown-up child in her eyes (her son, Bertie; the one who made all this happen). I don't think there could be a finer way to end a gig like this than a blink-and-you'll-miss-it escape (of the notoriously private singer) into the night sky with her arms outstretched like the wings on a blackbird in mid-flight, above the stage where - just moments before - a huge tree trunk had dropped from the rafters straight through the heart of her piano (symbolic, hopefully not, of a final goodbye).
If it does all have to end, right here, with such images as these flooding our heads; drowning us with delight - it's alright; it's ok. Because the witch inside us all, has been fully awakened.