Before The Dawn
London, Eventim Apollo
As Kate Bush emerged onto Before The Dawn’s stage it was difficult to believe it was really her. Such is the colossal nature of her myth, it would have seemed more in character if she’d set up a system of mirrors, clones and pulleys rather than actually being there, walking like any normal person, as the opening narration of ‘Lily’ filled the auditorium.
But no, there she was, surrounded by a decent-sized band. ‘Lily’, like the five songs that followed, was played straight and this approach was absolutely necessary. Bush as flesh-and-blood singer needed time to re-emerge to us. Her voice proved capacious, beautiful, but her presence was closer to that of the shy lass who played her first pub gigs with the KT Bush Band.
As special as these performances were, by the time of the sixth song, ‘King Of The Mountain’, a nagging little voice of doubt crept in. What about the rumoured conceptual theatrics? But you underestimate Kate Bush at your peril. The Ninth Wave, the seven-song suite from Side Two of Hounds Of Love, followed. This narrative of a drowning woman drifting between hallucination and consciousness was dramatized in spectacular fashion. On the surface, performances were literal – ‘Under Ice’ featured picks and searchlights, while ‘Watching You Without Me’ was a warped sitcom with a wraith-like Bush watching her family, well, without her – but they also probed surrealism and hyper-reality. ‘Waking The Witch’, for example, became a Madonna Blonde Ambition-era masochistic fantasy of guilt, hysteria, and punishment, overlooked by skeleton fish heads. Theatrics never replaced passion, however; when Bush hollered ‘let me LIVE!’ before ‘Jig Of Life’, it was the primal survival-instinct itself, while ‘The Morning Fog’ ended on a note of warm, communal positivity.
After the interval we got Aerial’s forty-five minute A Sky Of Honey suite, featuring Albert ‘Bertie’ McIntosh, Bush’s teenage son performing a new song, ‘Tawny Moon’. His voice and artistry were no match for the ludicrous prodigality of his mother at that age. Still, he was the one who persuaded Bush back on to the stage, and if a Bertie solo is the price we must pay, it’s a cheap one. Ending Before The Dawn with her 1985 hit ‘Cloudbusting’ was more overtly crowd-pleasing. The performance not only evoked the Hounds of Love nugget, it was as if its molecular structure had changed: the song now giving voice to subsequent lives, hers and ours, undreamt of when it was first born.
Kate Bush, in her recorded music, is earthy as well as fantastical. It is easy to forget that, since, in later years, it has been overshadowed by the myth of the reclusive artist. Before The Dawn should change that: deservedly reconnecting Kate Bush the person with Kate Bush the musical phenomenon. Yes, it was a dramatic and otherworldly experience, surely one of the most original concerts ever performed. But it was not mythical. It was better than that. It was deeply, profoundly human.