Thousands of words have already been posted and typed and printed about Kate Bush‘s ‘comeback’ shows in London, her first full concerts since the “Tour Of Life” in 1979. Here’s a few more. When she announced the shows in February of this year – it seemed like a hoax. After all, you never can really trust some stories on the internet. I received an e-mail a little while later, with a ‘pre-sale’ code for tickets. I’ve been a big fan of her music since the early 1990s and I didn’t want to pass up the chance to see her live, especially given her reluctance to perform in concert.
A guy I worked with has multiple laptops and said he’d scored tickets to very in-demand shows in the past, so I asked him if he could try to get Kate tickets for me. He agreed and to my amazement, got two tickets for the 12th September show!! It cost me a good bottle of wine, but to me, more than worth it. The months ticked by, rumours about special guests were floated around, as well as set list guesses. I wanted everything to be a surprise, so I conscientiously avoided blogs, newspaper articles and teevee coverage – even after the opening show, on 26th August.
Finally, the day arrived – I grabbed the tickets and met my friend in Oxford, for the trip to London. The shows are at the Hammersmith Apollo (or the “Eventim Apollo”, as it’s called now), the very same hall where “The Tour Of Life” show debuted. Kate said she was initially put off playing there, as it had become quite run-down over the years, but changed her mind when she found it was to be completely refurbished early in 2014. We arrived in Notting Hill Gate late in the afternoon and grabbed a quick lunch. We hopped on a bus down to where the venue is, but ended up walking some of the way, as traffic was pretty bad around there.
My friend is partially-sighted and had his guide dog with him. He had phoned the venue to check if they would look after her, while we were watching the show. The staff were quite nice and agreed to do so. We were able to avoid the queue outside and head in to drop off ‘Molly’ (the guide dog). While we were inside, I cheekily asked if we could check the merch table. They said it was fine and so I bought a T-shirt and programme. After that, it was time for a couple of pints in a local pub – then back to the Apollo for the concert!
Our seats were in the upper circle, nearly at the back. The Apollo’s a small-ish venue, so there’s not really any bad seats, per se. Kate had requested that people not take photos or film during the show and it was good to see everyone around us leaving the kit shut off. The stage itself, for the opening, was fairly sparse – two drum kits, a couple of keyboards and guitar and bass set-ups. Above the stage at the back, diamond shapes were arranged in a triangular pattern. The lights dimmed, the band walked onstage and started playing. Not long after, followed by a line of backing singers, Kate sashayed onstage to the rhythm of the tune, which turned out to be “Lily” (first released on “The Red Shoes“, in 1993 – then re-recorded for the “Director’s Cut” compilation, released in 2011). Her voice is still in fine form, even if she can’t quite hit the real high notes anymore. The reception was rapturous and then she ripped into “Hounds Of Love“, the title track from her 1985 (and most well known) album – the place just exploded. She seemed to relish singing it again and the backing band were top-notch. After “Hounds”, she took things down a notch with a nice “Joanni“, from the “Aerial” album, released in 2005. “Top Of The City“, another “Red Shoes” track re-worked for the “Director’s Cut”, followed – the diamond shapes were used cleverly in that one. They were lit up to resemble skyscrapers at night. Somewhat expected, “Running Up That Hill” (also from “Hounds Of Love”) was next and yet again, the crowd were delighted and the tune cooked. I wasn’t sure what she would sing next – I was still thinking maybe “Army Dreamers” or “Breathing” (from her “Never For Ever” album, released in 1980). Instead, she chose “King Of The Mountain“, the only single from “Aerial”, released in 2005. The end section became a rave-up and the band kicked into high gear. At the very end, one of the drummers got a bull-roarer out and after creating its eerie drone sound, the stage went dark.
A film of a man calling the coast guard about a ship in distress started up and then I realised she was going to perform the entire “Ninth Wave” section off of ‘Hounds Of Love’. The song cycle takes up side 2 (of the LP), or the second half of the CD, if that’s what you’ve got. A screen at the back of the stage showed Kate floating in water and the image would ‘mime’ with Kate’s actual vocal, which was quite clever. During “Under Ice“, a frozen sofa, lamp and TV appeared on-stage. The back-up singers wore fish-skeleton costumes and at one point, ‘workmen’ walked out and pretended to cut a hold in the stage. “Waking The Witch” featured a priest and the fish-people. I couldn’t tell if the vocal was live, as I suspect getting that ‘stutter’ effect would be difficult in a concert setting. Before “Watching You Without Me“, a surreal living room set glided onto the stage. It looked almost like the cutaway of a ship’s cabin, and it would bob slowly back and forth, as if it were on the sea. A domestic scene was played between a father and son (with Kate’s son Bertie playing the youth). Kate suddenly appeared in the room and then the song commenced. “Jig Of Life” was a rave-up, with the crowd clapping along with the Irish rhythm. Kate’s brother John‘s face appeared on the frozen TV screen to recite the poem that features at the coda. A life-size buoy prop became the centre-piece for “Hello Earth” and for the extended coda, she was carried from the stage, down a ramp, by the fish skeleton people. “The Morning Fog” was simply stunning, the whole band lined up across the stage and when Kate sang “D’you know what…I love you better now“, the crowd roared. The interval was announced and I was still processing what I had just seen. It was incredible – one of my favourite pieces of music performed in concert – worth the ticket price alone.
The second set was also an extended suite – this time “A Sky Of Honey“, the second disc (or LP, if you’re lucky enough to have a copy without paying £200 for it) of “Aerial”. The props for this set included a massive wooden door, lowered to the stage, a wooden puppet manipulated to act like a small boy and a screen made to look like a large painting. While it’s not quite as dynamic as “The Ninth Wave”, the tempo does pick up during the “Sunset” section, which builds into a flamenco-flavoured jam and Kate even let out an “Arrrriba!”. Bertie, who played the part of “The Painter” (originally voiced by Rolf Harris on the album – but as he’s had his….troubles lately…), narrated an extra bit about the moonrise. “Somewhere In Between” picked up the pace again and then the final two sections brought back the ambient feel. The final part, the title track, was another build-up. The band donned bird masks and moved around the stage with Kate. She was chased away, then the stage went dark with the band still chugging away. Suddenly, the panels of the door opened and there was Kate, floating, with huge black wings on her back. It lasted a few seconds and the stage went dark again.
The lights came on, Kate and the band shuffled off-stage. She walked out on her own and to prove she can still do the “girl-and-her-piano” act, played a lovely “Among Angels“, the only song from the “50 Words For Snow” album in the set list. The band returned for the final tune of the night, a rousing version of “Cloudbusting“, first released on “Hounds..” The house lights came on after the ovations and applause died down and we all made our way out of the venue.
The verdict? Well, I enjoyed the show immensely. I’ve seen films of the “Tour Of Life” show in ’79 and while Kate is far less ‘active’ on-stage these days, she still has loads of presence and mostly lets her voice carry the music. She’s retained her sense of the theatrical, as amply demonstrated in the “Ninth Wave” section. For those who showed up to hear the very early stuff – you’ll be in for disappointment – there’s nothing in the set from the first four albums…that’s right, no “Wuthering Heights” or “Wow” or “Babooshka“. I suppose I can’t blame her – her voice can’t really hit the higher registers needed for those tunes and she’s probably sick to death of W.H.
I’m just glad she took the plunge and decided to play live again – mostly by encouragement from Bertie, so hats off to him! it seems to have gone well, so hopefully it won’t be another long stretch of years to see her again.
Set list – 13th September, 2014:
Hounds Of Love
Running Up That Hill
Top Of The City
King Of The Mountain
~”The Ninth Wave“:
And Dream Of Sheep
Waking The Witch
Watching You Without Me
Jig Of Life
The Morning Fog
~”A Sky Of Honey“:
The Architect’s Dream
The Painter’s Link
Somewhere In Between
“Moonrise Introduction” (Bertie McIntosh solo)
Among Angels (Kate solo on piano)