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There’s no need to explain this phenomenon in detail. Kate Bush breaking her 35 years of being conspicuous by absence from the stage is a big deal. The biggest deal. One particularly lively Kate Bush fan forum quite rightly has an active thread asking where Before The Dawn “ranks in your emotional experiences”. This is not hyperbole. My first draft of this review was a page sodden with tears and drool. Before The Dawn rates pretty damn highly in my own record of “emotional experiences” as it is exactly that – not a gig, not a show, not a musical but an “experience” in every sense of the word.
Where to begin? For anyone who has been lucky enough to be immersed in Before The Dawn will understand the difficulty in expressing the scale and impact of the night. It is structured into three sequences – the first sees Kate Bush fronting a band for a set of music, which seems straight forward enough… more on that momentarily. The second is the centrepiece, ‘The Ninth Wave’, Kate’s concept suite on the second side of Hounds Of Love brought to life and made flesh. The third, after an interval, is another swathe of conceptual beauty as Aerial’s continual ode to the power of nature, titled ‘A Sky Of Honey’, is played out musically and theatrically in full. If Before The Dawn had consisted of just one of these acts it would have been more than enough to justify the hype of Kate Bush’s live comeback, but the fact that she is spoiling her audiences’ three times over means you are left overawed by her generosity of talent, spirit and vision.
The straight opening set of six songs is nothing short of spectacular. Kate Bush grooves on stage barefoot, followed by her backing singers, with the warmest of smiles to a room of people all audibly holding their breath as they adjust to her presence and await her voice. ‘Lily’ is a perfectly selected first song. It’s only right that something from ‘The Red Shoes’ – an album written and recorded with touring in mind – should commence this momentous occasion. ‘Lily’ is given a storming makeover and packs more of punch live than anyone could have imagined. The sound of Kate Bush and her band is truly astounding; its richness fills the theatre to bursting point. The urgent pounding drums of ‘Hounds Of Love’ breaks through for song number two. How can a night get any better, any higher than the ‘Hounds Of’ bloody ‘Love’? The beaming grin on drummer Omar Hakim’s face summarises his and his fellow band members unmistakable joy to be playing these hallowed songs. Aerial’s ‘Joanni’ is next, followed by The Red Shoes’ ‘The Top Of The City’ which again, is realised on such an overwhelming scale that is feels utterly removed from the original recording. ‘Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)’ inspires a thankful cheer from the audience before demanding revered silence.
All the while Kate Bush’s voice is nothing short of faultless. Just like you imagined it would be yet somehow even better. Her backing singers too make an impact all of their own. ‘Top Of The City’ sees them creating a powerful, vocal wall of sound. ‘King Of The Mountain’, another towering number, brings this section to an abrupt end – a curtain descends and an explosion of confetti rains down. Wait… Nope, it’s not confetti, its tissue paper inscribed with an extract from Lord Tennyson’s ‘The Coming Of Arthur’. “Wave after wave… Till last, a ninth one…”
And so it begins, after almost 30 years of waiting ‘The Ninth Wave’ is fully executed. A ship, The Celtic Deep, is in trouble. A lone, female passenger is missing. And there she is, Kate Bush adrift in a sea of darkness, framed by her orange life jacket singing straight to camera (for this is a filmed segment) ‘And Dream Of Sheep’. It is deeply affecting. The stage has been transformed into a fearsome underwater realm with only live fish skeletons to keep Kate company on her one woman voyage. The feats of theatricality reached in this portion of the show are astounding – Kate bursting suddenly through the floor of the stage as her outer body experience takes hold; the rocking ship that houses the ghostly domesticated scene of ‘Watching You Without Me’; the helicopter search light that swoops over the audience; Kate’s distressing cries of “Let me live!”; and finally, and most touchingly, her lone outstretched hand that secures her safe return to land.
“Thank you,” Bush beams to the standing mass before her – just one of the many, I lost count after standing ovation number 11, that the performance demands this evening. “We’re going to take a quick break, if that’s alright?” she humbly asks. We need to get our breath back more than she does, trust me. “What can possibly happen next?” I wonder. “What is she going to do? Fly?” I chuckle…
Yes, for her final act Kate Bush becomes one with her favourite musicians, the birds, and takes flight after being fitted with a cumbersome set of wings towards the dénouement of ‘A Sky Of Honey’. Again, it’s one of many magical moments that accompanies one her most impressive musical landscapes – puppets coming to life; showers of billowing feathers and tree trunks crashing through the night time set. It is at this point that Kate Bush’s son – Bertie – takes up his biggest onstage role (having also been credited as “Creative Advisor” for these shows and serving as backing singer) as he plays “The Painter” who frets over nature’s ruinous effects upon his canvas. Although his biggest cheer came when his mother sang, “I’ll tell my son…” during ‘The Morning Fog’, so key has his influence been over making her live return real. ‘A Sky Of Honey’ roars to a glorious end with Kate Bush howling at human limitations, “I’ve gotta be up on the roof”, despite transcending the possibilities of performance here before our very eyes.
Two final treats are in store: The first, a calming, lone encore of Kate Bush at the piano playing ‘Among Angels’ from 50 Words For Snow (no material predating 1985 is played). The second, a rousing rendition of ‘Cloudbursting’ where everyone is more than happy to bellow out their own “yeah yeah yeah yeah ooooooooh”. Kate gorgeously growls that most inspiring of lines, “But just saying it could even make it happen,” pointing a finger towards the crowd as she does so in the sassiest of fashions. After this monumental residency comes to an end, who knows what else Kate Bush could make happen. Conversely she could disappear and take one of her extended, working breaks once again. Either way Before The Dawn marks yet another apex of Kate Bush’s evolutionary life and art.
Written for DISORDER