Wednesday 27 August 2014

Kate Bush: Before the Dawn, Eventim Apollo (review)

28/08: Following on from people who are getting silly money for this, I've put four pieces of confetti from the Kate Bush concert on eBay - all proceeds will go to charity (TBD - am thinking along the lines of Amnesty Int'l, Oxfam, or British Red Cross.) Auctions end this evening at 8:30ish UK time.

29/08: The auction has ended and £50 is now in the hands of Medecins Sans Frontiers/Doctors Without Borders! I'm floored that people will pay £10-15 for one piece of confetti, but really pleased I was able to raise this much for charity. Bless you, you crazed Kate fans!

In case it's not obvious, this post will contain spoilers and information that people who don't know/care about Kate Bush may find utterly pointless. I won't list all the tracks, although if you're curious, here is the setlist:  Also, this isn't really a proper review; it's a collection of ramblings from a middle-aged Kate fan who has a terrible short term memory and needs to write this stuff down before she forgets.

Right, let's carry on.

We had tickets in row E, and I was absolutely astounded to learn that this was the front row. They had removed rows A-D to accommodate the deeper stage; I had expected to be peering between the heads of the four rows ahead of me (as often happens when you're only 5'4".) We followed the letters along and when they stopped at E, I had Paul check the tickets to make sure I wasn't misreading something. A woman a couple of rows back called over, "Congratulations - you're in the front row!" as other people around her smiled at my shocked face. Hands shaking, I took a few photos of the stage. You cannot take a panoramic shot with your iPhone when you have the shakes, just FYI. We tucked our phones away knowing that we'd been asked not to view the show through a lens, and remarkably, everyone else did the same. Not one glowing screen appeared (that I could see), just like in the olden days when I used to go to concerts as a teen and all we had were chalkboards and quills.

The show started promptly at 7:45 with a barefooted Kate leading her background singers out on the stage. No opening act, no messing about, here's bloody well Kate fucking Bush. We erupted into applause, roaring at the sight of this woman we've waited so very long to see. "Where have you been?" she joked with us. She seemed a bit tentative, which may be just my interpretation based on what we know about her reluctance to perform live, and the audience seemed to cheer her on in encouragement. It was like 8,000 people were saying "It's alright, Kate - come on out now."

Once I got over the fact that I was looking at actual real life Kate Bush (about four songs in), I worried a bit. Although she could have come out and burped the phone book and I would have been elated, the fact that the show started out so...normally was troubling. She stood, she sang, she twirled around a bit. She thanked the lighting director (which seemed a somewhat awkward thing to do after only the second song) and then thanked her son Bertie for encouraging her to do this tour, who stood in front of us with the other backing vocalists. She talked a bit between songs, punctuated by enthusiastic applause throughout. She launched into "Running Up That Hill" and the place imploded. It was amazing and exciting, but where were the theatrics?

The lights suddenly dimmed and French percussionist Mino Cinelu stepped forward, whirling an object around his head that made an ethereal humming sound. Cannons shot yellow slips of tissue paper with words from Tennyson on them at us. A screen dropped down to show a short film about an astronomer reporting a ship in distress. Well okay then, this was the show I was looking for.

"The Ninth Wave" was performed in its entirety, combining film, dialogue, and dance. Huge billowing sheets were swept across the stage by performers draped in alien-like fish skeletons (stay with me, here), falling over the front of the stage like a waterfall. Frantic rescuers chopped at the ice with axes, finally making an opening with a chainsaw, as Kate momentarily bobbed up to the surface from underneath the stage. A film of Kate projected on a screen at the back of the stage was her "reality"; a woman in a lifejacket struggling to stay afloat in icy water. On stage was the "dream". A fairly rudimentary (i.e. it was controlled by a couple of blokes pulling on ropes) but incredibly effective helicopter sort of contraption moved across the audience, puffing out fog and panning its search light over us. Paddy Bush's tinny voice reported the loss of one female overboard to the rescue team back at the base. The following songs told the rest of the story from drowning to rebirth, ending with the lights brightening in sunrise and an utterly joyful, soul-lifting rendition of "The Morning Fog."

After a 20 minute intermission, during which we all blinked in a daze trying to register what we've just seen, the second half led us through "A(n Endless) Sky of Honey." A wooden puppet that looked like an artist's model, a child, wandered around the set observing everything and everyone in wonder. I felt less connected (what a pretentious word) to this half simply because "Hounds of Love" was such a big part of my teenage life and the later albums happened a little more quietly in the background of my adult life. I got a similar sense from the audience around me; there was less head-bobbing, chair dancing, and singing along. I feel like this section created a different atmosphere, similar to watching a West End show in which you aren't overly familiar with the songs. This is not a bad thing, by any means. I just had to switch gears and take it in differently.

Kate's son Bertie was central to this half, although he was very much present throughout. It's obvious that he was the main motivation and inspiration to do this tour (is it a tour when it's only at one venue? I dunno.) I often caught him casting a close eye over his mother during the performance, non-verbally reassuring her. Bertie fit into the show perfectly, and performed a solo with a new song called "Tawny Moon."

In between the polished, powerful two main performances she was just Kate - for example she remarked "Oh, there's a tree!" when a piece of the set was still lodged in her piano from an earlier scene and "It wasn't even for real!" with a large smile when we all cheered her return to life before "Morning Fog." She thanked us for receiving her so positively and seemed to visibly relax by the end of the show, which went out with a bang with "Cloudbusting." Being able to stand a few feet from one of my idols while singing at the top of my lungs "Yay-e-yay-e-yay-e ohhhh!" along with her will be a moment I will cherish for a very long time. We whooped and we waited, but that really was the end of the show. That lasted for three hours.

I don't want to call this a "comeback tour" because her last album "50 Words for Snow" is a relatively new release. The fact that she hasn't been on stage for so many years doesn't negate what she's been doing in the studio. She's not being hauled out at Newmarket Races to sing the three hits she had in the 80s with five other ageing, balding bands from the same era. I don't really feel like she's been absent, this is simply a new tour. A very long overdue tour, but a just a tour nonetheless. I think this is reflected in the songs she chose to perform. This isn't a "Kate's Greatest Hits" show, it's an intricate piece of theatre.

I'm glad that there were no special guests (despite rumours of Peter Gabriel hopping up on stage to sing "Don't Give Up" with her), a huge chorus of professional dancers, or a rendition of "Wuthering Heights". After I saw the show, I knew that would have been out of place. It was an elaborate production however it was simple in that the stage only ever contained the musicians, Kate, her vocalists, and a very small number of performers to help with some elements such as the fabric sea and the wooden puppet.

It was mostly what I expected but still surprising and amazing. The hamsters that run my brain are still making the wheels whizz round in my head as I try to take it all in. And the Internet is undoubtedly billowing smoke as we all post our thoughts about the show over the past twelve hours.

"Does that mean you liked it?", she asked at the end. Yes, very much so, Kate. Please come back and do it again sometime.


Kerry Jean Lister said...

What a wonderful, wonderful review. I'm so bloody excited! xxx

Mrs Dee said...

Ah thank you! :) I cannot wait to hear your thoughts after you see it. Very excited for you! xx

Mary Lynn said...

Finally had time to sit down and read your whole review...and what a great review it is! Loved reading all the little details about Kate, the stage show, and your thoughts as the evening progressed.

I found the set list interesting, in that there were a few songs I had to think hard to place. I think the last album I really totally immersed myself in was The Red Shoes. The ones after that I've enjoyed, but I didn't listen to them over and over again in the way I did with earlier ones, mostly because I no longer have that kind of time on my hands. But yes, it seems to me that the ones she chose were right. I would have been disappointed if it had all just been the greatest hits.

So glad you had such a wonderful time! It really has been lovely sharing in your excitement.

Mrs Dee said...

Thanks, Mary Lynn! And yes, I totally agree - the later albums didn't get nearly as much of a listen than the earlier ones in my house, either (for the same reason.) It made sense that this concert picked up where the first left off. I thought it was odd that she skipped Sensual World entirely, though.

Fabien said...

"Bloody well Kate fucking Bush" indeed, right in front of me! I was in F and couldn't believe my luck when I found my row. I almost burst into tears.
I attended the show last night and didn't want to read any reviews until I had seen it, and I really enjoyed yours. It echoes so many of my feelings about the show, especially the singing with Kate at the end. My God, how thrilling. I never even dreamed that would ever happen to me.
I listened to Aerial a lot over the years, so I did feel connected to that segment as well, but The Ninth Wave really slayed me. It was so incredibly moving.
I was really amazed by the quality of her vocals and the band was truly top notch. Seeing John Giblin himself play the bass what very special for me, as I am a huge fan of his fretless bass lines on many of Kate's songs over the years.
Thanks for a great review!

Mrs Dee said...

How fantastic, so happy to hear you enjoyed the show, Fabien. I am still constantly thinking about it, even almost two weeks later. Totally agree about Giblin on bass - that sound is so distinct, especially on tracks like "Morning Fog". Thanks for your comment!