For me to evaluate Kate Bush’s London stage show Before the Dawn is difficult, having loved her and her music since I heard The Sensual World aged 14. I am far from impartial; I am a diehard fan. For me, the concert demonstrated perfectly, in one evening, everything I love about her and everything that maddens me about her. It also came freighted with a weird weight of expectation, mostly external to Kate and her work, but still clouding the event.
It is not really necessary to go into the backstory of the show, repeated everywhere ad nauseam. The unilluminating, recycled, off-the-shelf anecdotes (She is a recluse! She is a genius! She takes ages between albums!) are also redundant. It is enough to say that when I learned she was to perform live again, I was excited by the possibility of seeing her on stage. When I made it to the Eventim Apollo on a Friday night after a long day at work, I was nervous with anticipation.
It was an odd, pleasing shock to see Kate herself stroll on stage, smiling and with little fanfare, and get stuck into a fierce version of ‘Lily’. Having spent so long with recordings of her songs, it was unsettling to see the process, the music being made, watching how she acts out the songs, as much for her own benefit as ours. This was no longer a serene, disembodied voice but a flesh-and-blood woman working hard to communicate.
She has assembled a fantastic band that articulates her songs perfectly. Her son Albert, instrumental in getting the show on the road, is a talented performer and charming presence on stage. Kate’s voice is brilliant and powerful. It was a joy to be made to hear afresh, as if for the first time, how wonderful her singing and her songs are: ‘King of the Mountain’, with its elaborate, syncopated percussion; ‘Top of the City’, with its impassioned melody and delivery; the uncanny ‘Under Ice’.
The staging is also spectacular: a ‘helicopter’ searches the audience for a drowning woman; a wonky room slides back and forth and showers sparks during ‘Watching You Without Me’; a gigantic moon revolves in the infinite dark of the stage; a tree falls and spears a grand piano; a three-man choir hangs off a buoy during ‘Hello Earth’; a child-size artist’s mannequin comes to life and runs around the stage; Kate grows a blackbird’s wing; Kate flies off stage.