There's a good reason why I've decided to forego the usual best shows of the year list and why it's taken me such a long time to talk about my experience watching Kate Bush's triumphant return to live performance this summer. Kate Bush's "Before the Dawn" was a stage spectacle like no other; a joyous, playful, fun, daring, brave, haunting, frightening and ultimately life affirming work that left me in complete awe. It was everything I hoped it would be and then some. At a time when other legacy acts feel content to merely trot out their old hits, here we find a genuine artist unafraid to take chances and present to her audience something staggering in its scope and startlingly original in its vision. This wasn't just the best concert I'd see all year, it was the concert that completely redefined what live performance could be for me.
My familiarity with Kate's music came from my uncle who introduced me to her songbook through her highly innovative music videos. This was in an era long before the internet and her clips most certainly were not in heavy rotation on MTV or VH1; so what's a hardcore music nerd in the analog era to do? Enter the long since forgotten world of tape trading.
By a certain point in the late 80's (or was it the early 90's?) my uncle had amassed a good number of tapes from fellow collectors all around the world. I took in her groundbreaking music and visuals at the same time kids my own age were hooked on the waning grunge and burgeoning gangsta rap and hip hop that permeated the scene at the time; it was like taking an advancement placement course when all of your friends were stuck in remedial classes. That's not really a knock on the music of that era but there was just something about Kate's music and videos that stood apart from anything else that I had seen up until then and probably ever since. Her stuff was a shock to the system, a surge of inspired creativity that I only truly began to appreciate and dissect years later, I'm talking a good decade afterward here. I can still recall rediscovering her music in my late teens; for something so outwardly foreign it was like a homecoming of sorts.
Kate waited three decades to put on another show and held absolutely nothing back in doing so. The concert itself, called "Before the Dawn," was broken up into four sections: the first being a fairly straight ahead live concert featuring versions of "Lily," "Running Up That Hill," "King of the Mountain," (not in that order). The second portion was a complete performance of "The Ninth Wave," the second side of her landmark "Hounds of Love" album. Complete with video projections, intricate props and sets and even a spotlight and sound rig that mimicked the helicopter heard after "Waking the Witch" it was a stunning realization of her narrative concept.
Having stayed way from spoilers, I fully expected the show to end following "The Ninth Wave" and would have been more than satisfied had the show concluded at that time so you can imagine how surprised I was when I discovered we had only just begun-there was a whole other half yet to be seen! The third part focused on the second album from 2005's "Aerial," entitled "A Sky of Honey."
Toward the end of "A Sky of Honey," the other cast members fitted Kate with a large bird wing which she brought to life with a certain wonderment. It was at this time that I realized what Kate had done here: she was basically telling the story of a woman coming to grips with and accepting her own mortality. It was quite literally a story of life and death and a kind of rebirth or perhaps a transformation, which is all death is really when you get right down to it. She had turned something so frightening for so many of us into this beautiful idea.
Of course it wasn't all a matter of life and death, there was also the music and what music! The band chosen for these shows were absolutely ace from top to bottom. Anyone remotely familiar with Kate's music is well aware that she never really composed her songs with the intent of performing them live having long since turned away from the stage following her then only tour in 1979. I can't even imagine the pressure and obligation they must have felt to fully realize Kate's layered and complex compositions but they pulled it off.
Then came the encore, the fourth and final portion of the evening. After a few bows with the cast and bandmates, Kate obliged her fans with something many would have likely been just as happy to see in lieu of a proper stage show: a low key, intimate solo performance on the piano. As she sang "Among Angels" off "50 Words for Snow," a perfectly timed feather gently fell from the rafters and directly in front of her onto the piano. It was a remarkably touching moment of stage serendipity (but, ever the perfectionist, I wouldn't put it past Kate to have planned it all along!). Sending the crowd out in a group singalong, the band returned for a near-orgasmic version of "Cloundbusting." The house lights came up at this time and I looked around to see nothing but gobsmacked and smiling faces on everyone in the crowd as we all sang along, "I'm cloudbusting, daddy..."
Seated in that old Hammersmith Odeon (now the Eventim Apollo), third row, mere feet away from Kate and her band, next to my uncle who had given me her music all those many years ago was something I'll likely take to the grave. The crowds of Kate fans were completely enthralled by what we had seen as we left the auditorium into the chilled English night. We had all just seen what many (my own uncle among them) thought we would never see: Kate Bush was back and the world would never be the same again.