Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Kate Bush

Kate Bush
Before the Dawn
Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith

A Kate Bush concert is something we thought we would ever get to see. Earlier this year, the shock announcement of 22 impending dates at the Eventim Apollo led to frantic attempts to secure tickets. With a seating capacity of just over 3,600, even 22 shows were never going to be enough to allow all interested people to attend.

Why the Eventim (formerly Hammersmith Odeon) Apollo? It seems there were two main reasons. First, according to the programme notes, a much larger venue was originally intended but the dimensions left Kate Bush feeling ''physically sick'' at the prospect and realised a more intimate venue was necessary to stage the show. The Apollo - not too big, not too small - was selected. There was a historical reason too. The Tour of Life - the only prior Kate Bush tour - concluded there, back in 1979. Ziggy Stardust had retired at the same venue in 1973, with the words: "This show will stay the longest in our memories, not just because it is the end of the tour but because it is the last show we'll ever do." For 35 years it looked very much as if the words could have applied equally to Kate.

Queues had already formed when I arrived at the Apollo around 5.30 p.m. The name of Kate Bush did not appear outside. In fact, there was little to suggest that such a great show was about to happen.

There was no chance at all of getting into the venue before the official door time of 6.15 p.m. Tickets had to be checked against names and photo IDs before anyone was allowed to join the queue. Yet there were still plenty of very blatant ticket touts out and about, buying and selling. I don't know how anyone buying tickets that way would gain entry (the same applies to tickets bought from Ebay, where they were going for £1,500 earlier this week), given the strict checks, but fortunately that was not my problem. Meanwhile, a crazy guy was making a nuisance of himself, shouting obscenities and climbing on top of bins and the like. He eventually drifted off, clearly worse for wear.

Once inside, the scramble for the merchandise stall was somewhat unseemly but the event programme is well worth picking up. It's a beautiful presentation, featuring lots of Kate's notes about the genesis of the show, plus photographs and hidden content. Not bad at all for £15.

The Programme
It had not been possible to avoid all mentions of the set list during the week before the show. As the whole thing has been crafted so well, it seems unlikely that there will be any changes over the course of the 22 evenings. That means there will be nothing at all from five of her albums and all of the content comes from Hounds of Love, The Red Shoes, Aerial and 50 Words for Snow.

There was no support act. That would have strained the patience a little too much. Instead, at approximately 7.45 p.m., with the atmosphere crackling with excitement and expectation, the band emerged, began to play and were joined very shortly afterwards by Kate Bush, who was immediately greeted by a standing ovation (the first of a steady series of such demonstrations of delight throughout the evening).

I wonder if anyone on the first night had guessed the opening song? Lily, from the much-maligned The Red Shoes album, must surely have been a major surprise.

There were four parts to the show. The first was - more or less - a straightforward concert, with six up-tempo songs. The end of an excellent rendition of King of the Mountain segued into the second part, an extraordinary performance of The Ninth Wave (side 2 of Hounds of Love back in the original vinyl days), a themed piece about a drowning woman. This is where the lines between concert and theatre blurred, with large pieces of extraordinary scenery swinging in and out of the action, a helicopter (sort of), video footage of Kate in a massive water tank, singing And Dream of Sheep (as the distress light on her life jacket blinked and beeped poignantly away), some very peculiar, silent fish people and various other dream-like occurrences. Stage effects were utilised too, with everything from the impression of massive waves to trapdoors.

A 20-minute break followed the Ninth Wave. As extraordinary as that had been, the best was still to come in the form of A Sky of Honey. This is the second CD of the 2007's Aerial. It is, for me, the pinnacle of all Kate's work. Her son Bertie - a key influence on the decision to create this run of shows - takes on the role of The Painter (Rolf Harris was the original, on the CD). Puppetry entered the show during this set. There was even a new song - Tawny Moon - sung by The Painter. With videos of birds and beautiful skylines filling the backdrop, A Sky of Honey flowed magnificently from start to finish.

The encore was the fourth and final part of the show, starting with Kate, solo, on the piano performing Among Angels (the only song from 50 Words for Snow) before bringing the band back on stage for a storming version of Cloudbursting.

Set List

Hounds of Love
Top of the City
Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)
King of the Mountain

The Ninth Wave
And Dream of Sheep
Under Ice 
Waking the Witch
Watching You Without Me
Jig of Life
Hello Earth
The Morning Fog

A Sky of Honey
An Architect’s Dream
The Painter’s Link
Aerial Tal
Somewhere In Between
Tawny Moon

Among Angels

Kate's voice was strong throughout the evening. The 35 years of not touring had not taken their toll. The band and cast were uniformly excellent (at one point there were at least 20 people on the stage). The new material - both in The Ninth Wave and Aerial segments - came, at times, dangerously close to outstaying its welcome. The Astronomer scene at the start of The Ninth Wave (written by David Mitchell) could have been tighter. It was during this that numerous members of the audience decided to visit the bar and toilets, rather breaking the spell for the rest of us who had to constantly stand up to let them through. The same happened during the sit-com sofa scene, which was definitely overlong. On the plus side, such on-stage activity enabled Kate to rest and build up her energy for the next songs (the show was three hours long). 

The evening provided an unforgettable and deeply moving experience. What next for Kate Bush...?

Incidentally, when in London don't forget to visit Snap Galleries, which is a short walk from the Piccadilly tube station. They currently have an exhibition with two sets of photographs featuring Kate Bush, by Gered Mankowitz and Guido Harari respectively. There is no entry fee and the atmosphere is very friendly. The exhibition will conclude at the end of the scheduled Kate Bush Apollo shows, so don't miss out by leaving it too late.

Well, well...this year I have seen three acts I never thought would tour again (Dixie Chicks and Monty Python were the other two). One wonders if David Bowie is currently limbering up for some sort of special announcement...

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