Search The Line of Best Fit
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Kate Bush: Before The Dawn – Hammersmith Apollo, London 26/08/14

27 August 2014, 14:37 | Written by Thomas Hannan

In the late 90s, Kate Bush took a break from the steady pace at which she’d been writing, recording and releasing music since 1978, reportedly to raise her son, Bertie. It was a decision that should have been seen as entirely normal – simply a woman choosing to start a family without having to appear on television and in newspapers while doing so. You know, like you and I might choose to. But it seems to have been interpreted by the general public as the move of a true eccentric, further ammunition for the widely held theory that there was something curious, otherworldly, or downright not right about her.

Tonight, a few songs in to her first gig in 35 years, she turns to Bertie – now the starring member of her five-strong chorus – to thank him for his encouragement. “Without him there is no way this would ever have happened”, we’re informed. Fancy that! Supposedly the very reason for Kate Bush’s absence was himself the catalyst for this most triumphant of returns. It’s a gorgeous moment in a performance not short on gorgeous moments, and the first instance of a strong theme of familial love that runs throughout Before The Dawn. It’s also far from otherworldly – rather, it’s touching in virtue of its simple honesty.

Simplicity actually is the defining aspect of the first part of this four section performance. Featuring Kate backed by the aforementioned chorus and a seven piece band, it sees songs such as the seductive shuffle of an opening “Lily”, towering “Top of the City” and the pinch-yourself-I-can’t-believe-it’s-happening likes of “Hounds of Love” (“Take your shoes off, and throwww them in the lake!” commands a barefoot Kate) and a particularly spectacular “Running Up That Hill” (I welled up – don’t tell Steve Albini) played with a relatively straight bat. In fact, the only thing about the first seven songs of the night that’s at all peculiar is how normal everything seems, despite being executed with supernatural skill and passion. Come the thunderstorm at the end of “King of the Mountain” however, everything takes a turn for the completely fucking bizarre.

The second part of the set comprises of a dramatic interpretation of “The Ninth Wave”, the song suite from the closing half of Hounds of Love that details a night spent alone in choppy waters by a woman unsure of what awaits here – she hopes for rescue, but fears a watery grave. It involves helicopters, chainsaws, a preacher, dancers dressed like skeletal fish, huge sheets manipulated to resemble monolithic waves, and in its music, moments of resignation, hope, despair and resurrection that put everyone in attendance through the proverbial mill. With the band obscured by all manner of props – which at one point include an entire house – it’s less a gig, and more like the closest I’ve ever gotten to going to a West End musical. Everyone watches with a mixture of confusion and delight at the sheer audacity of the idea, and elegance of its execution. “The Ninth Wave”, it becomes clear, was written with the stage in mind – not half a side of vinyl.

Post interval, having witnessed what we had, it would have been far too jarring for Bush and her band to return to merely handing us Kate Bush: The Whole Story (as misleading as titles of Best Ofs go) on a plate. And of course, she does nothing of the sort – what we get instead is “Sky of Honey”, another suite of wondrously theatrical songs that makes up 50% of the album Aerial. While that record’s unlikely to sit atop many folks’ lists of favourite Kate Bush LPs, seeing it presented in this drastically physical, visually grandiose manner only goes to emphasise how far Bush’s vision for her music seemingly goes – records, it seems, simply don’t do the ideas it contains justice. Where on Aerial the luscious grooves and swathes of synts of “Sky of Honey” are all well and good, on stage it gains birdsong in surround sound, enormous paper planes, a lead vocal slot for son Bertie on “Tawny Moon”, and a bit where a puppet kills and eats a seagull. It’s magnificent.

Come the time Bertie’s Ma returns for an encore of a solo piano rendition of “Among Angels” and a closing “Cloudbusting” that has everyone on their feet clapping and dancing – still in the party mood despite having watched about two hours of what was pretty much experimental music theatre – the stage is a glorious mess of trees, paintings, snow, feathers, and musicians. To talk of songs that were absent – no “Wuthering Heights”, “The Man With The Child In His Eyes”, “Babooshka”, or indeed anything from her first four albums – seems to be missing the point, as I don’t think any of us have ever seen a show quite this densely packed with so much in the way of other brilliant stuff. Those lucky enough to have seen 1979’s The Tour of Life, to date her only other proper live outing, to this day speak of it as a uniquely spectacular event 35 years after its staging. And even if they still might not have figured out quite what they made of it, everyone here lucky enough to be alive in 2049 will be able to recall Before The Dawn’s humble but peculiar brilliance with just as much clarity.

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