Published on 14th September 2014
Kate Bush – Before The Dawn
Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith, London
6th September 2014
by Chris Wing
“As we journey to thy sacred feet…”
The lights dim, the whirring sound of synth strings and an uneasy rhythm strikes up, an elderly sounding woman’s voice fills the air with a narrative, the crowd rise and cheer and then there she is at the head of a line of singers in procession. They cross the stage and take up their position beside the band leaving Kate in the centre. “Lily, oh Lily” she cries, “I don’t feel safe, I feel like life has blown a great big hole through me”. At that very moment in time I’m feeling pretty much the same way! Had it really been thirty five years? Was I really seeing and hearing what I was? The voice is crystal clear and the band are thunderous. All too soon the song finishes but we’re straight into The Hounds of Love. The playing is precise and punchy, the vocals solid as a rock. A recently turned 56 year old Kate isn’t dancing around as she did in ’79 but, hey, she does give us all the arm waving and facial gestures that she can muster. The band are all sited on top of what appear to be (at this distance) individual foot high risers. The stage is bathed in lights which blaze from a beautiful arc with gold square discs behind the band. We move on to Joanni from the 2005 album Aerial. Kate’s voice is exquisite, much warmer and more rounded than in her early years and very, very powerful. The song seems to last a lot longer than the album version but who cares, it sounds fantastic. We’re then taken to the Top Of The City from 1993’s The Red Shoes. A longer intro with a much more sparse arrangement than the album. When it hits the chorus the light show swings into full action with dazzling white spots swinging from bottom to top and out into the audience. The unmistakable siren sound ushers in the drummer (Omar Hakim) and percussionist (Mino Cinelu) with the pounding rhythm of Running Up That Hill and the whole place roars. The song builds and builds into a tumultuous end section which is truly breathtaking. At this point, I must admit, I’m thinking that this is a straight ahead rock show but without all the preening and posturing which is usually seen in abundance. Where are all the dancers and jugglers, the mime scenes and the props? An eerie swirling wind sound takes us into King Of The Mountain. “Elvis are you out there somewhere, looking like a happy man, in the snow with Rosebud…” coos Kate against some amazing backing vocals. The song stretches on and on, becoming quite frenetic and then with the return of the wind, which is now gale force, the band, on their risers begin to move backwards into the stage.
At the height of the storm we’re plunged into darkness and a curtain is dropped towards the front of the stage. A film image appears on the curtain. Someone who looks like a ships captain is making a distress call to the coast guard. The curtain rises and we are transported to the bottom of the sea inside a ship wreck. The sound of waves, an image of Kate wearing a life jacket and floating in very dark moonlit water is projected above the stage. Some spine tingling notes ring out from the piano. The projected Kate sings “Little light shining, little light guide them to me”, the opening lines from And Dream of Sheep, the first song of The Ninth Wave which made up the whole of side two, back in the days of vinyl, on the Hounds of Love album. What follows is simply the most sublime piece of musical theatre. The complete Ninth Wave brought exquisitely to life. A set which has lasted nearly one and a half hours draws to a close with The Morning Fog which is played acoustically with the whole ensemble spanning the stage. The troupe includes Kate’s son, 16 years old Bertie McIntosh, who has been a big part of the whole proceedings. In a small change to the song lyrics she acknowledges him and it’s given a huge cheer of approval.
If that had been the end of the show, I’m sure that every single person in the audience, including myself, would have left feeling completely fulfilled. There was much more to come however!
“We’re gonna be laughing about this, we’re gonna be dancing around…”
Aerial: A Sky Of Honey is the order of the day for part two of this extravaganza. Prelude sees Kate seated at a grand piano amid the rest of the band. A huge screen behind them spans the width of the stage. We’re in what appears to be a winter forest scene, including huge silver birch trees on the stage with one going straight through the piano! As the music begins some huge wooden doors (they must be twenty five feet high) open and out comes a child size artists mannequin, or wooden puppet as it’s describe in the programme. The puppet was being brought to life by a young man standing behind it and who was attached to it at various points. The music flows as per the album with slight augmentations here and there. The playing and singing is all wonderfully executed. After the huge doors are hoisted away they are replaced by a giant picture frame and up pops Bertie again to play out the role of the painter. Alongside this role-play there are so many breathtaking images being displayed on the giant screen – birds in flight, day skies, night skies, sunsets, moons – and the puppet interacting with everyone. They’re all played out, Prologue, An Architects Dream, The Painter’s Link. A wonderful highlight during Sunset when the central ‘dance’ section is played acoustically and the band take to the front of the stage. And during Aerial Tal as per the recording, Kate sings the birdsong section flawlessly! Normal play is interrupted after Somewhere In Between, when Bertie, as the painter, takes centre stage to perform a song of his own. The piece is acted and sung very well indeed. More to come from him in the future I’m sure! Normal play is resumed as Nocturn begins with what feels like an over exposed vocal line from Kate. It feels more comfortable as the band kicks in and the song doesn’t fail to deliver. It leads us beautifully into the finale of Aerial. Solid, punchy, earthy, very exciting as it rises and rises to a tumultuous, frenzied guitar ridden climax. All the band wearing their bird masks and playing like demons. Kate being dressed in birds feathers by the dancers/actors and at the last stroke of the song, with a flash of light she can be seen suspended above them all as a bird in flight!
Wow, wow, wow, wow ,wow, wow, unbelievable! Breathing the fallout, in, out, in, out, in, out…
Kate returns to the stage, now featherless and takes her seat at the piano. A beautiful solo performance of Among Angels from 50 Words For Snow is just what’s needed. A faultless and stunning rendition gets the standing ovation it rightfully deserves. The band and the rest of the ensemble return to join Kate for the final song of the evening. The marching drum rhythm strikes up and Cloudbusting gets into full swing. I don’t think I could have ever thought that I would hear that song delivered with such power and the whole audience singing along to boot! Pure ecstasy.
There aren’t many artists who could play for nearly three hours and keep the whole audience mesmerised for every single second without even one song from the first four albums. Simply stunning!
Please don’t leave it so long next time Kate.
Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith, London
9th September 2014
by Jez Rowden
She really didn’t have to do this.
This has surely got to be one of the most unexpected events of 2014 – or indeed any other year since the mid-’80s. I never thought I’d get to see Kate Bush live and was thankful that I was able to secure a ticket (thanks Mel!) and here we are at last outside Hammersmith Apollo (or whatever it’s called these days) with excitement mounting and tons of time to spare.
The queue is light and we’re soon inside a very nicely refitted Apollo. I haven’t been here in a good many years but it’s a lovely venue and I’m pleased to be back. It is exactly the right venue for this show: big enough to get plenty of people in yet compact and intimate enough to allow Kate to connect with her audience, something that she has stated as being a very important part of these return shows. Consideration duly given to the merch stand and the very lovely tour book (programme doesn’t do it justice), we’re off up the stairs to our seats at the back of the circle, closer to the Hammersmith Flyover than the stage but, no matter, it’s just fantastic to be in the hall at all for one of these shows.
The two guys in front of us introduce themselves – they’re not from around these parts. Harry is from Australia and Joe from Canada (Hi Both!). The story of how they got here is indicative of the power of this event and the immense regard in which Kate Bush is held by so many people all over the world. Joe is the only Kate Bush fan he has ever met and this is his first trip outside Canada – three days in London. He bought the tickets but had no one to go with so posted an ad to which Harry responded; they met for the first time the day before the show and were getting on like best mates. Inside the hall they are like excited school kids – along with everyone else, myself included.
The stage is bathed in blue light, a line of risers across the stage quite near the front. At quarter to 8 the house lights go down to an expectant cheer from the full house. So full in fact that people are standing up the stairs at the sides and along the back of the hall. It is noticeable that a large percentage of the audience could not have been born when Kate last performed a show.
Whirring sounds and narration start up and Lily from The Red Shoes rings out, the band kick in with a stomping beat and Kate appears in flowing black at the head of a column of five backing singers, swaying to the rhythm as they take their positions on stage. The place erupts. Even at the back of the hall the volume of the cheering is quite extraordinary.
Lily is a great choice as opener, thumping along as Kate delivers a great vocal. The sound is immaculate and the seven-piece band is immediately noteworthy, developing as they settle in over the course of the first few numbers after which they are just flying. Omar Hakim’s drums and the bass of John Giblin are at the core of everything, the rhythmic drive at the core of much of Kate’s music enhanced by Mino Cinélu’s percussion. The keys from Jon Carlin and Kevin McAlea give texture and depth rather than a focal point leaving space for the guitars of David Rhodes and Frisi Karlsson to highlight the melody.
A standing ovation at the end of the first song and Kate appears genuinely moved by the wonderful response. The first part of the show moves on through a number of songs in a traditional format, Kate centre stage swaying and moving elegantly with the band behind. Hounds of Love is the first “hit” played – to another immense response – with the chorus adding the barking dog vocals. Next up is Joanni, the first track from the Aerial album that makes up a large bulk of the set. Another unexpected treat from The Red Shoes in the shape of Top of the City before Running Up That Hill gets the crowd dancing. Hakim’s drums have come to the fore now and this continues, with excellent support from Cinélu, as the mood shifts for a fantastic King of the Mountain from latest album 50 Words For Snow.
And then abruptly the whole scene changes; the musician’s risers are drawn to the back of the stage as the scene is set for The Ninth Wave, the second half of the Hounds Of Love and, at least by me, the most anticipated part of the show. Let’s get this straight, those who don’t think of KB as prog need only be directed to this wonderfully imaginative suite, quite literally the flip side of the more pop orientated first side of the Hounds of Love disc. It is fitting that someone with the independence and creative freedom that Kate enjoys should put their own spin on this show and give us something new. It was never going to be a Las Vegas-style “sing-a-few-songs-in-front-of-the-band” evening…
We get filmed segments, acted vignettes, dance, effects and theatrics. The whole thing comes to life as a filmed Kate with lifejacket sings from a moonlit sea, her character adrift after a shipwreck. The band are superb, coming to the fore on the stage at times and really becoming part of the show rather than simply backing musicians, such as in Jig of Life. Kate’s son Bertie is a big part of the show and a major inspiration behind it happening at all. He acts and sings and is a focal point throughout from here on in. I thoroughly enjoy the whole suite but it is slightly broken up by a couple of the set pieces. The filmed sections set the scene but go on slightly too long, as does the brilliantly realised helicopter section of Waking The Witch and the living room scene in Watching You Without Me where the father and son of Kate’s character wait for her at home, unaware of the danger that she is in, gets a little too ‘Am-Dram’ for my tastes. A bit of editing would have made it all sharper but no matter as the stage becomes an undersea world of Fish People, the drowning Kate taken into the audience prior to her rescue in the nick of time. This is visually stunning with great use of imagery, the culmination of which is particularly well realised. The fact that The Ninth Wave has been dramatised so well on the stage at all is to be applauded and it is a joy to behold, my slight criticisms sound churlish after the event as she has successfully flipped the show on its head from a traditional concert event into a theatrical tour de force.
And so to the interval; 20 minutes to contemplate all that has just happened. It is hugely pleasing that I didn’t see one ‘phone or iPad raised to record the event so it looks like Kate’s wish for people to just turn up and enjoy has been well heeded. At times I’ve had to pinch myself and remember exactly what it is I’m watching – “That’s Kate Bush!!!” – but the show itself has completely captured the attention, the senses drinking it all in and revelling in the experience. It has been very good so far but goes into overdrive for the second half.
A Sky Of Honey makes up the whole of the second disc of the Aerial album and has become a favourite piece. Here it is beautifully rendered in full (with additions), the way that the stage is lit just breathtaking and fully realising Kate’s imaginative view of “a lovely afternoon”. The band are now to the rear left of the stage in two tiers, taking up a quarter of the stage. We are in a forest, huge door opens and a child-sized wooden artist’s mannequin enters and explores the stage. The mood builds as the suite ebbs and flows. The painter appears to work on a giant canvas, actors playing other characters drift around the stage as if they too were part of a painting. It comes as a bit of a surprise when Bertie as the painter tells the wooden manequin to “piss off!” a couple of times. A little unnecessary that, but the suite continues, Kate doing a brilliant job recreating the birdsong section of Aerial Tal and Bertie getting a piece to himself in the shape of new song Tawny Moon; an indulgence but we can forgive it. The music works a treat and the band do it full justice whilst the lighting and full-screen slow motion images of birds in flight fill the backdrop; just beautiful. Towards the end the band don bird masks and Kate dances a duet with guitarist David Rhodes during Aerial, A Sky Of Honey ending in mesmeric form as theatre and lighting converge and Kate emerges from the giant door as a raven in flight. As an hour long spectacle it is one of the most impressive things I have ever seen.
So what can Kate do to top that? Well she manages it with ease by returning to the stage alone for the beautiful piano and voice of Among Angels from 50 Words For Snow which completely makes the whole show for me. You can hear a pin drop as her sublime vocal fills the hall. If she ever tours again all she needs to do is wheel out the piano and it would be an awesome show.
Finally we get a rip-roaring crowd pleaser to end in the shape of Cloudbusting, everyone in the Apollo standing, clapping and singing in celebratory fashion, a humble Kate soaking up the applause that lifts the roof off the Apollo at the end. By this point Harry is kissing Joe on top of his bald head.
At no point in the show was the sound balance anything less than perfection and the lighting and visuals just superb. Despite having watched transfixed by her every movement for the last three hours Kate Bush has successfully maintained an enigmatic facade whilst involving and engaging her audience with a warmth that was unexpected. Her vocal is beyond reproach, richer and with more depth than you might expect but more than up to the task of delivering these wonderful songs. She has involved the right people to produce a show that defies expectations. It may not be the populist crowd-pleaser but for true fans who love her and her work this show couldn’t get any better. I don’t need to hear a carbon copy of Wuthering Heights or see her leaping around in a leotard any more. As an artist she has developed over the intervening three decades and is now comfortable enough to almost effortlessly produce a show of this magnitude. Amazing. I hope that one day she will revisit some of her older work in order to reimagine it from her current perspective. That would be a very different but no less fascinating show.
Thank you Mel. Thank you Harry and Joe. Thank you everyone in the hall who made it such a great experience.
Thank you Kate.
Kate Bush – vocals, piano
Jon Carin – Keyboards, Guitar, Vocals, Programming
Kevin McAlea – Keyboards, Accordion, Uilleann Pipes
David Rhodes – Guitar
Frisi Karlsson – Guitar, Bouzouki, Charango
John Giblin – Bass Guitar, Double Bass
Omar Hakim – Drums
Mino Cinélu – Percussion
Chorus & actors:-
Albert McIntosh – Chorus, Son, Painter
Jo Servi – Chorus, Witchfinder
Bob Harms – Chorus, Dad
Sandra Marvin – Chorus
Jacqui DuBois – Chorus
Ben Thompson – Lord of the Waves, Tesoro
Stuart Angell – Lord of the Waves, Painter’s Apprentice
Christian Jenner – Blackbird Spirit
Sean Myatt, Richard Booth, Emily Cooper, Lane Paul Stewart, Charlotte Williams – Supporting Actors
Hounds of Love
Top of the City
Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)
King of the Mountain
The Ninth Wave:-
– And Dream of Sheep
– Under Ice
– Waking the Witch
– Watching You Without Me
– Jig of Life
– Hello Earth
– The Morning Fog
A Sky Of Honey:-
– An Architect’s Dream
– The Painter’s Link
– Aerial Tal
– Somewhere in Between
– Tawny Moon