Kate Bush Makes Live Return Following 35 Year Hiatus: Review

Kate Bush: Before The Dawn
Ken McKay/Rex/REX USA

Opening night of Kate Bush: Before The Dawn live at The Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith in London, Britain on August 26, 2014.

Thirty-five years after making her last live performance, Kate Bush finally delivered what many of her fans thought they would never get to see: a triumphant, hit-filled and characteristically theatrical return to the stage.

Appearing at London’s Hammersmith Apollo -- the scene of her last live show in 1979 -- for the first of a 22-date run of sold out shows, the 56-year-old British singer was met with a rapturous reception as she playfully marched onstage, dressed all in black, bare foot and leading a small procession of backing vocalists that included her teenage son Bertie.

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The standing ovation that followed opening song “Lily,” taken from her 1993 album The Red Shoes, would turn out to be the first of many throughout the show, which, in keeping with Bush’s experimental back catalog, was divided into three distinct parts, each one containing a mixture of the sublime, ridiculous and unique.

The first section essentially took the form a straight-up live concert, with a note perfect Bush leading a powerful seven-piece band and five backing singers through a six-song mini set that included fan favorites “Hounds of Love,” “Joanni,” “Running Up That Hill” and “King of the Mountain,” the climax of which was accompanied by a series of glitter cannon explosions and deafening applause.

After a short film interlude, next came a complete run through "The Ninth Wave," the conceptual suite of songs about a woman drowning at sea that made up side two (back when albums had sides) of 1985’s Hounds of Love album.

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Bush has long talked about her desire to stage "The Ninth Wave" in its entirety and its execution didn’t disappoint. With the stage transformed into the remnants of a ship wreck, audiences were treated to an elaborate mix of music, puppetry, theater, film, dance, mime, comedy and special effects that culminated in the singer being carried aloft into the crowd by a series of menacing looking sea creatures.

Remarkably, the entire audience appeared to obey Bush’s earlier request not to take photos or use their phones throughout the show with a respectful, if slightly eerie silence filling the venue during the set’s quieter, more intimate moments.

Onstage, Bush appeared to be enjoying herself hugely, displaying none of the nerves or apprehension you would expect of someone who hadn’t performed live in over three decades.

“Thank you so much for such a warm and positive response,” she told the crowd after her umpteenth standing ovation of the night.   

The final section of the concert, entitled “Before The Dawn,” revolved around another song suite, this time “A Sky of Honey” from Bush’s 2005 record Aerial.

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With the singer performing for the most part from behind a piano, visual accompaniment consisted of little more than a puppeteer operating a child-size wooden mannequin while Bush’s son, Bertie, playing a 19th century artist, dabbled at a giant cloud covered canvas and dancers in medieval dress moved in slow motion. What does it all mean? Who knows, but it's certainly more entertaining than watching your standard veteran act going through the motions for a reunion tour paycheck.

As to be expected, “Wuthering Heights” or “Babooshka” did not feature in the set, but their absence didn’t detract from the drama and spectacle unfolding onstage.

Before The Dawn set list, Hammersmith Apollo, London, August 27:   

"Hounds of Love"
"Running Up That Hill"
"Top of the City"
"King of the Mountain"
"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 (prelude)"
"An Architect’s Dream"
"The Painter’s Link"
"Aerial Tal"
"Somewhere in Between"
"Among Angels"