Kate Bush: Before the Dawn

35 years after she last performed a full concert, we finally get to see Kate Bush live

Live Review by Dave Kerr | 26 Sep 2014

What Kate Bush has presented across her 22-night London residency is a rock opera from the old world – an immersive bombardment that could compete with any staged realisation of Tommy or The Wall. The scarcity of pictures from the production – some 18 months in planning – combined with a tabloid preoccupation with a certain lack of ‘hits’ leaves punters free to idly speculate over its specific content in the Apollo’s substantial queue.

With the mystique surrounding these concerts, one might expect our eccentric heroine to arrive on stage by wolfback. The reality is perhaps more of a surprise; the shy retirer mythologised by the press shimmies onstage barefoot in a conga chain with her seven-piece band, gleefully pirouetting like Stevie Nicks. Arriving a full 35 years after Bush’s last full-blown live outing ended on the very same stage, there’s a sense that the voice and muse have been left protected by her refusal to engage with the rock’n’roll treadmill.

Back then, the critics called 1979’s Tour of Life ‘a theatrical feast of mime and magic.’ 2014’s Before the Dawn puts similar crafts to work – extravagant set pieces set in the sea and sky are coloured by gothic costumes that wouldn’t look out of place at a pagan ritual, with wooden marionette puppetry and sleight of hand stage manoeuvres which would have the crowd believe she’s about to take flight.

Business up front, the first set serves as a primer – introducing a musical troupe reassuringly deft at handling the sacred source material and a quintet of actors and backing singers who multitask throughout the night. Running Up that Hill (A Deal With God) makes an early entrance, duelling drummers kick the shit out of tom-toms to recreate its rolling thunder. King of the Mountain steadies the pace before the room is plunged into a lighting storm that heralds the beginning of a different kind of concert altogether, drawing on the folk traditions of her youth while pointing to moments of her catalogue that still sound like the future.

Two albums 20 years apart lend their narratives to the pair of distinct acts that follow. 1985’s Hounds of Love provides the base for The Ninth Wave – a seaborne tragedy about a mother lost at sea, while Sky of Honey has 2005 album Aerial to define its dawn setting, with Bush’s son Bertie playing the eponymous frustrated Artist at the heart of the story.

Many of the original skits and effects from both are brought vividly to life; the glaring lights of a search helicopter roam overhead and a demented preacher rants to the tune of Waking the Witch. "I feel I gotta get up on the roof,” she bellows during Aerial’s mantra-like chorus. One final, full band encore of Cloudbusting takes us there, underlining a surreal, astonishing live comeback from a determined visionary. Now, how do we bring her back to The Usher Hall?