Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Kate Bush - opening night review *SPOILERS*

Last night was the opening night of Kate Bush's long awaited return to the stage with a 22 night run of shows in London under the banner of "Before The Dawn". The UK news outlets have been falling over themselves to provide previews, reviews and opinion in the run up to the event and they'd even made big news of her requests for the audience not to take photos during the show. If you are going to one of the shows then I'd strongly suggest that you stop reading now as everything from here onwards is going to be full of spoilers and, believe me, that will detract from the occasion. If, however, you're one of the several billion people in the world who didn't get tickets for the show and want to know what happened and what I thought of it then read on.

Arriving at the venue the sense of anticipation and excitement was immense as it was such a unique experience to be present at the first night of her return to the stage in 35 years. A mass of TV crews were interviewing people as they went in, and some were still there when we came out to get first reactions. Due to the tight ticketing controls touts were conspicuous by their absence which is something that I was pleased to see.

Inside the venue there was a buzz of anticipation building towards showtime and when the house lights finally darkened and the voiceover to "Lily" began there was a huge roar which only increased in volume when a barefoot Kate Bush made her way onto the stage. The set began with what most people would consider a conventional opening to the show as they moved from "Lily" into "Hounds of Love" followed by a mellow rendition of "Joanni", a rapturously received "Running Up That Hill" then "Top of the City" and "King of the Mountain". Her every move was cheered and clapped as the fans lapped up the tight delivery from both singer and band. Then it all kicked up several gears as she revealed her love for mixing music and theatre with a complete performance of "The Ninth Wave" accompanied by impressive staging, amazing lighting and even a simulated rescue helicopter descending from the ceiling with some surround sound effects thrown in to finish the first half. That whole section was very evocative and moving and I have to say that my eyes moistened at points as the combination of music and drama hit home.

After the interval Kate went through a complete performance of "A Sky of Honey" from "Aerials" in front of a whole new staging with more impressive lighting and projection of sky scenes, woods and birds in flight. Once
that reached its surprising and spectacular climax it was encore time with Kate sat at the piano for "Among Angels" with the band rejoining her to close with "Cloudbusting".

The first half became a giddy and immersive experience like nothing I've ever known at a gig before and the delivery of "The Ninth Wave" was so spot on that it couldn't be faulted. A couple of songs into the show Kate had stopped for a moment to thank her son Bertie, who was also on stage, and the lighting designer Mark Henderson and during "Ninth Wave" it became entirely clear why Mark was so important as his impressive contribution completed Kate's musical vision to produce a breathtaking piece which I won't forget.

The second half was a more measured affair and "A Sky of Honey" is a much more mellow piece and while "Ninth Wave" had grabbed the audience and propelled them through the experience "Honey" was much more of an
invitation to follow Kate into the world that she'd created, again with impressive staging and lighting plus an enormous painters canvas on stage which changed to follow the changing stage backdrop under the painter's
guidance while the main character was a wooden puppet propelled around stage by a man in black. If you know "A Sky of Honey" you'll know what it's like and it might not have been everybody's first choice for a show piece but it reached a massive climax with the wooden puppet casting off its puppeteer and making its own way around the stage finishing with Kate being transformed into a black bird and lifted into the air to the collective gasps of the audience. Another brilliant moment.

Her encore of "Among Angels" from "50 Words For Snow" was sensitively delivered and after an oblique intro the crowd went insane when it resolved itself into "Cloudbusting".

Interestingly for me the public request to refrain from taking photos was widely kept and much of the set was played to a silent and spellbound audience who were entirely capable of being vocal and loud when the opportunity presented itself. It was a massive contrast to some of the chatty audiences I've seen of late and an indicator of just how engaged everyone was in the experience.

It's almost impossible to pull off a perfect show and this one's no exception so while the first half was as close to perfection as you're ever likely to get the second half seemed slow at points and I was left wondering whether the two theatrical pieces would have been better off the other way round as "Ninth Wave" seemed so much stronger. Also a number of big songs were missing with no "Wuthering Heights", "Babooshka" or "The Man With The Child In His Eyes" and after she closed with "Cloudbusting" there was audible disappointment
from the audience around me though it was hard to gauge whether that was just because the show was over or partly because of those missing hits. Perhaps she wanted to not rely on the old classics by presenting material for the more dedicated fans or maybe she felt her voice couldn't do them justice as I thought that her voice did weaken in "Among Angels" and at a couple of other points though it was utterly flawless the rest of the time.

Those niggles aside it was an utterly memorable night and the faithful from the church of St Kate will be thoroughly reinforced in their devotion. While it came up a little short of perfection for me I have to say that I'd go back every night if I had the choice. It's that good.

Hounds of Love
Running Up That Hill
Top of the City
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

Among Angels

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