BEFORE THE DAWN – KATE BUSH
Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith, Wednesday 3rd September, 2013
Although a devoted fan since the age of 13 when I saw Kate Bush’s first appearance on Top of The Pops, I can’t say I’ve been waiting thirty-odd years to see Kate Bush perform live – I never expected it to happen at all, but as soon as the dates were announced and the scramble for tickets began, anticipation levels have been running at critical.
When she first appears, leading a line of backing singers, it is a genuine thrill. We are in the same room! We are in the presence! Despite the workings of time and gravity, the smile is still the same on her lips and in her eyes. It’s really her, although rather than the ethereal, doe-eyed wisp of a girl she once was, she is now all solid and mumsy – if your mum is a hippie-cum-drama teacher.
She kicks off with Lily and from the get-go sets us at ease. Despite 35 years away, she is at home on stage and her voice is searing and powerful. The opening set is like a warm-up act for herself. Some of her biggest hits go down rapturously well. She gives us a selection of later works, her voice having matured from the banshee shrillness of The Kick Inside LP. Hounds of Love is cracking but it is Running Up That Hill with its irresistible, driving drumbeats and the raw emotion of its lyrics that does it for me. The sound is a little rough; the bass is a little muddy – I suppose I am accustomed to the clarity of compact discs rather than this earthier sound of live performance.
A screen drops and we watch film of an actor reporting a sinking ship to the coastguard. The purpose of this is to set the scene for the drama to come and to cover the changing of the set. Unfortunately, tonight there is a technical problem and an extra interval is announced, temporarily derailing the impetus of the show. But we are a patient lot. A few minutes longer is not going to kill us.
When The Ninth Wave gets underway at last, it is an absorbing and breath-taking spectacle – What I have always loved about Kate Bush is the way she encapsulates theatre within the confines of a song (I taught countless drama lessons using a range of her songs as stimulus items – the cool kids liked it). At last, the story I have visualised many, many times over when listening to the album is playing out before my very eyes. It’s a dreamlike affair of projected film, skeletal fish/men stalking around, ballooning fabric, and movable scenery gliding on and off. Jig of Life, in which a much older Kate sings to her present self, is vibrant and moving, although I find Waking The Witch nowhere near as terrifying as its recorded version.
Hello Earth is the crowning moment – Kate clings to a buoy for dear life and it looks as though the fish people and the ocean might claim her – before her final rescue and rebirth in a joyously casual closing number.
By the interval proper I am spent!
The second act takes half of the Aerial album, the one I like the least (because the emphasis is on the music, in a kind of prog rock way, rather than the blending of music and theatrical storytelling). The nature of the pieces and a lack of narrative arc makes the staging less straightforward. I decide to give up trying to work out what’s going on and let the music and imagery wash over me. Projected thirty feet high, common or garden birds fly in slow-motion – on this scale, it is easy to imagine they came from dinosaurs. A boy-sized puppet stalks around, huge doorways fly in and out. Kate acquires a raven’s wing before her eventual transformation into a bird. In the final seconds, in what is a surreal, Grimm fairy-tale moment, she takes to the air.
My response is visceral. I am exhilarated – but we haven’t finished yet.
The final number of the night takes us back to where we started, with Kate and the band and the backing singers. We are all on our feet. A roar of approval goes up when she sings the opening line, I still dream of Organon… There is a party atmosphere, a celebration of us all having shared the experience. Electrified, we sing along. Dazed and elated, we file out of the venue, hands sore from applause and hearts full of love.
Time and life have changed us both since Wuthering Heights debuted, but my love of what Kate Bush does is undimmed and constant. I hope it’s not another 30 years before I can see her again.