Wednesday 24 September 2014

Kate Bush - Before the Dawn - Hammersmith Apollo 23 September 2014

Kate Bush (Pic: Ken McKay/Rex/REX USA)

We’ve waited a long time. Oceans have risen and fallen, entire avian species have gone extinct since Kate Bush last performed live.

The atmosphere in the packed Hammersmith Odeon (I’m using old money) is breathless and excited. People are practically pinching themselves that this is happening and that they are here to witness it.

The stage has a formidable amount of equipment on it – multiple percussion stands, guitar racks and keyboards. A lighting rig in the form of a formation of diamonds hangs above the stage.

And here she comes, slowly marching her band on stage. Kate looks happy and comfortable.

Her voice is a revelation, a strong and expressive roar that effortlessly fills the venue. Her band groove alongside, the stage illuminated by projected flames that scorch across the lighting rig.

Second song in is ‘Hounds of Love’ and a fair proportion of the audience die happy then and there. It’s a loping beast of a song, replete with that oddly disturbing hunting horn sound.

‘King of the Mountain’ is an extraordinary song. There is a real feeling of frenzy and of things out of control, the flames behind the performers billowing as though in a hurricane. The song rises to a crescendo…

…and everything goes mad.

Anything can happen in the next half hour, and it basically does. What follows is a lavish and boggling rendering of ‘The Ninth Wave’, a suite of songs from the second side of ‘Hounds of Love’. It features skeletal fish people, a projected Kate bobbing around in a flotation tank, an interlude in which her son Bertie argues with his ‘father’ in a living room that bobs on the sea, a ‘helicopter’ that zooms down and hovers over the head of the audience, a stage set that looks like a Ken Adam imagining of the inside of a whale, and a giant automatic buoy.

It’s utterly bewildering, baffling and quite brilliant. The only thing that I’ve seen remotely like it for sheer unexpectedness was a revue at Bally’s Las Vegas where the high point was the sinking of the Titanic performed by showgirls.

The audience stands and hoots approval. A breathless Kate then invites us back for the second half.

The second portion of the show is devoted to ‘A Sky of Honey’ a long suite of connected songs from the second disc of the album ‘Aerial’. It’s a lengthy, challenging piece of music that thematically draws inspiration from the flight of birds, the different moods of day and night and the struggle of the artist to capture nature.

Visually, the section of the show is wonderful – the stage is swathed in autumnal haze, giant projected geese and tits flap slowly above the band. Less successfully, a wooden mannequin is manipulated through the ranks of musicians, a figure forever struck with ‘wonder’ at the scenes around it. It’s kind of unnecessary, and seems to reflect a worry that the music alone would not be enough to engage the whole crowd.

Bertie appears again, as a painter, struggling with capturing cloud formations on a giant canvas. He gains cheap applause by telling the mannequin to ‘piss off’.

There’s a bit of a conundrum surrounding this whole segment of the show. The music has a cumulative power but this only becomes apparent as the sequence progresses. Until things become clear in the final sections, there is a sense of drift and loss of momentum before the final destination is reached. I am not overly familiar with this piece of music, which may be why I struggle with it.

As the sequence reaches a climax, the birds are starting to take over. There are metamorphoses among the musicians, Bush herself sprouts a raven’s wing, before appearing to take flight as the stage lights go black.

The crowd stands and does its nut. Kate leads her band through a version of ‘Cloudbusting’ which everyone stomps along too.

And then, still happy, still regal, still flippin’ marvellous, she departs. It was worth the wait.


Godlike Genius said...

Nice review, but I get the impression you're not that big a fan of Ms Bush. And did you stay away from all the reviews before you went? I would have been curious to know whether the set-list was the same as first show or whether she changed it slightly...

I'm still looking forward to the Xmas DVD/Blu Ray release...

Wyldman said...

I like Kate, but I'm not that familiar with much of the stuff in this show. The elaborate staging means that there is little scope for her to vary the set - she might possibly change a few songs right at the beginning, and she plays a solo piano number as part of the encore, but this is much closer in spirit to a West End musical than to a routine gig.