Kate Bush 'Before the Dawn' review

Our verdict on the first of Kate Bush's much-discussed new live shows

Rating: 5/5

© Trevor Leighton

For the first 20 minutes or so, Kate Bush’s first gig in 35 years is kind of conventional. Not mundane conventional: after all, she is singing Kate Bush songs, in Kate Bush’s extraordinary, undiminished voice, under a stupendous, gold-glittering lightshow by Mark Henderson.

Nonetheless, after the wild speculation as to the content of these 'Before the Dawn' comeback shows, the initial setup is bog-standard middle-aged rockstar: a small, smiling woman who dances like one or both of your parents, framed by a big crescent of session musicians working exotic banks of synths, guitars and percussion, alongside backing singers whose numbers include her beloved son Bertie (a precocious tousel-haired teen with a surprisingly deep voice).

In essence, the first bit of the show is Bush acting as her own warm-up act. The concert proper begins as a short film cues up ‘The Ninth Wave’, the song cycle about a woman drowning that comprises the second half of ‘Hounds of Love’. Rendered by Bush and director Adrian Noble as a sort of overwhelming phantasmagoria, filmed sequences and inserted skits flesh out its narrative, a laser-generated sea, flying searchlight, floating house and fish-headed dancers building it up visually as the band take a back seat until an utterly gorgeous, all-acoustic ‘The Morning Fog’.

It is a stunning, daring and slightly absurd rendition of a stunning, daring and slightly absurd piece of music, but my jaw doesn’t actually drop and my eyes don’t actually start to mist over until the second half of the show, which is almost entirely given over to ‘Aerial’s gargantuan ‘An Endless Sky of Honey’. Forty-two minutes long on record, and well over an hour here, this will clearly be the point that separates the Kate Bush fans from the people who just wanted her to play ‘Wuthering Heights’ (there’s no ‘Wuthering Heights’). An exponentially building suite of songs about a summer’s day that climbs from the gentle, dove-like sighs of ‘Prelude’ to the pulsing synth wig out of ‘Aerial’, here there are fewer theatrical interludes than on ‘The Ninth Wave’ (a little puppet boy potters about the stage, basically) allowing the music to build and build and build under gorgeous projections of birds flitting through the darkening sky. Simply carrying off the music is a staggering physical feat, but it’s Bush who is the key – her voice seems to grow in power as the gig wears on, and live, the radiant joy that defines ‘An Endless Sky…’ on record blazes brighter than the projected sun behind her, louder than her army of musicians, bigger than the cavernous Apollo.

It is a magnificently uncompromising set – an encore of ‘Cloudbusting’ is the only single in the last two-and-a-half hours of the three-hour show – but it’s impossible to look at the beatifically smiling little mother in front of us and think that there’s any confrontation or perversity in her choices. 'Before the Dawn' is her best and bravest music, despatched with skill, with love and with ecstatic enthusiasm. 'Before the Dawn' is Kate Bush, being Kate Bush – and she is fucking tremendous.

Kate Bush plays at Hammersmith Apollo until Wed Oct 1 2014.

For some of you, March 28 2014 was a day like any other. For others, March 28 2014 will go down in history as that time you screamed at the internet while frantically trying to bag a ticket for the live return of Kate Bush. KB hasn’t played live for so long that we have no idea what she’s going to do, what music she’ll be playing, even why she’s doing it. Here are four possible scenarios for the ‘Before the Dawn’ concerts…

See our predictions for Kate Bush's live show


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