During the interval of the opening night of Kate Bush’s ‘Before the Dawn’ at the Hammersmith Apollo, we struck up a conversation with a woman who excitedly summed up the evening so far: “Phenomenal. Best gig of the year, and it’s from a 56 year old woman who isn’t a size ten!” And at that point, it was only half over.
Kate Bush fans, even those who had spent the previous months viciously Googling for all they were worth, had almost no idea what to expect from last night’s performance. Bush had played her cards very close to her chest, and hardly any rumours had surfaced. She would probably be performing The Ninth Wave song cycle from her 1985 album Hounds of Love, and that was all we knew (apart from the fact that she had politely requested that no-one try to take photographs or film any of the gig).
So, when almost 4000 Bush fans turned up in Hammersmith last night, we had literally no idea what was about to happen, and there was no point in attempting to speculate – if Kate Bush is anything at all, she is unpredictable. We were indeed treated to the entirety of The Ninth Wave in the first half, and after a short interval to A Sky of Honey, from 2005’s Aerial. Both of these sequences were accompanied by fantastical, theatrical stage sets and performance art from Kate herself, her son Bertie, and her band and back-up singers.
Giant trees smashing through grand pianos, wooden puppets exploring and then escaping from their handlers, dancers cutting open the stage with a chainsaw, a ‘helicopter’ descending from the ceiling and shining a spotlight on the ‘sea’ of the audience, Bush herself ‘drowning’ and being carried through the audience by skeleton-clad fish-people, a skit involving burnt sausages, and a spectacular finale in which it rained feathers and Bush grew wings and took off into the air.
We can certainly understand now why Bush chose the intimate, and more importantly seated, Hammersmith Apollo for this series of concerts, which hark back to the more theatrical, conceptual performances put together by the likes of Pink Floyd.
However, it wasn’t all special effects and invisible wires; Bush cleverly elected to open the night with a more traditionally structured series of songs, beginning with a cracking rendition of Lily from her early nineties album The Red Shoes, and other classic hits of hers such as Hounds of Love and Running Up That Hill. She also rounded off the night with a foot-stomping delivery of Cloudbusting.
Throughout the nearly three hour concert Bush was note-perfect, and proved herself to be a consummate performer, rendering speculation concerning the thirty year gap in her live gigs completely unwarranted. Personable, smiling and clearly delighted to be there, she carried the audience with her through an amazing evening of music and spectacle. And she has another 21 of these evenings still to go.
Kate Bush: Before the Dawn at the Hammersmith Apollo is – unfortunately – sold out.