I was as stunned as anyone when the announcement came that Kate Bush was doing a residency at the Hammersmith Apollo (or the Eventim Apollo but it just doesn’t have that ring about it) in London, England. I mean, the last time she performed live I was 3 years old. It never occurred to me that seeing Kate Bush in concert was a possibility. It still didn’t feel like one since I live in Michigan, United States until I was talking to a close friend on the phone after the announcement and she said “Let’s do it. Let’s go to London and see the show.”
One road trip to Canada and a plane from Toronto to Heathrow Airport later, we were in the UK. I hadn’t been since 1992 and it was a dream come true to return, even without a monumental concert in my future.
We rented a charming flat in Shepherd’s Bush via AirBnb which would be our place to recharge and rest throughout the trip. It was perfect and a stone’s throw from the concert venue. We bummed around London for a few days and then it was time…September 2, 2014. We had a hospitality package so we made our way to Hammersmith at about 5 PM. The excitement was palpable and uncontrollable.
BEFORE THE DAWN
We sat down to a glass of champagne and a basket full of delicious, gourmet food. We also received a complimentary Before the Dawn Program. I only stole a few glances as I didn’t want to spoil too much of the show. I had already heard too much online before we left!
Our fellow audience members sitting in St. Paul’s Cathedral (this was where the hospitality meal was served) were all filled with excitement and anticipation, as were we. We had many conversations with people we had just met; people from Australia, Singapore, Sweden…it was glorious. I was even recognized for my own work upon returning from the restroom! Made my day.
Anyhow – we browsed and bought from the merch table and raced over to our seats just in time for the show to begin. The lights went down and the crowd ROARED. Kate took to the stage along with her band and background singers and everyone went absolutely crazy. Tears came to my eyes as it really sunk in that Kate Bush was standing a mere 20 feet away from me! The spoken word opening to Lily began and I was full of wonder and awe as the music kicked into life. Kate began to sing and it was evident that her voice was in top form. I had no idea what to expect in that regard and I was elated to hear how much power and precision she was capable of giving in a live setting. In fact, throughout the show I kept thinking of how much the added color in her voice at her current stage in life really enhanced the older songs.
Lily gave way to Hounds of Love and again (this became a theme throughout) I just sat in awe that this was really happening. An icon performing iconic work. For me, personally, she has been such an influence and it just blew my mind that I was experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime thing. The first six songs were presented like a rock concert and they were stunning. Joanni, Top of the City and of course Running Up That Hill sent us all into a frenzy. Yet I knew from what I’d heard that there was much, much more in store and was there EVER.
King of the Mountain is a favorite of mine and she was delivering it with so much enthusiasm. The ending built and built into a fierce climax and then BAM….it just ended and the stage went black save for lightning strikes. The sound of thunder filled the auditorium as her percussionist came to front center stage and whirled a long string with something at the end of it around over and over. And off we all went on what was a life-changing adventure in musical theatre.
THE NINTH WAVE
Yes, The Ninth Wave. ALL. OF. IT. Perhaps my very favorite thing she has ever done musically being brought to life on the stage. The background singers became the supporting cast and the band blended perfectly into the set pieces that looked like a big shipwreck. A giant video screen upstage was used to convey the “reality” of Kate floating in the ocean with her life jacket on. What happened on the stage was the “fantasy” aspect of her going in and out of consciousness in the water. And Dream of Sheep was sublime and this was a particular moment when I found her current voice so well-suited to the quiet intensity of the song. Under Ice was simply amazing with the supporting cast cutting through the ice to pull Kate out from underneath at the end of the song. It was literally and figuratively chilling. Waking the Witch was as dark and frightening as one would expect. At the end of that song a helicopter began moving back and forth over our heads with search lights and fog machines hovering over different parts of the audience, searching for our missing heroine.
I should note here that this portion of the show was the absolute highlight for me. I have heard The Ninth Wave over and over again for many, many years and listened to it quite a bit for inspiration when I was making my last album, Lantern Through the Labyrinth. Seeing it performed in its entirety and in such a theatrical way was simply amazing.
Anyhow – Watching You Without Me and the skit beforehand brought some lighter moments and even a little comedy. Jig Of Life was stellar and always a song I love hearing. In this incarnation it had such power! Hello Earth is in my Top 5 Kate songs of all time and I was moved to tears throughout it. The supporting cast (dressed as ‘fish people’) held Kate on their shoulders and moved into the aisles and out the side door. Our heroine’s fate? That was for us to decide. The Morning Fog was transformed from the album version into an acoustic jam with the musicians, cast and our returned Kate meandering about the stage and really felt like a scene from the afterlife or a beautiful purgatory. A perfect close to act one.
We were speechless throughout the intermission. I was overwhelmed in the best possible way.
ACT TWO – A SKY OF HONEY
Act Two brought about the entirety of the second disc of Aerial, A Sky of Honey. What a lovely afternoon, indeed. The band was back in the forefront (reading the program later on, I discovered this was something very important to Kate in the process of making this piece) and I should mention here that of course her musicians were exactly as polished and top-notch as one would have expected. A Sky Of Honey was much more on the mellow and contemplative side, but after Act One this was a good balance to strike. The beautiful songs came to life and Kate and the cast would move in slow motion often. Striking visuals (including crows, which hold a special place for me) were projected on another large screen behind the action. At one point the crow was stabbed and red blood filled the screen. Very intense. I was transfixed on Kate nearly the entire time so I am looking forward to seeing the DVD so I can wrap my head around more of it.
The only misstep, and I am hesitant to criticize anything really, was adding a new song for her son Albert McIntosh to sing as a solo piece. He is only 16 after all and I did love the mother and son collaboration aspect of it but his vocals paled in comparison to all the other performers. He acknowledged this in part in the program. Forgivable, certainly.
Nocturn was all I had hoped for. Such a beautiful song that transports the listener to a beach on a warm, summer night. You could feel the sand beneath your feet and the gentle wind on your cheeks as her vocals lifted you higher and higher into the song’s finish. Aerial, the close of the main set, was absolutely stunning. The coda went on and on and grew larger and larger; one could not help but sway and move to the beat. My foot was tapping and I could barely stay in my seat. It culminated in a spectacular finish wherein Kate was lifted up into the air, one arm draped in a large, black wing. We all jumped to our feet for one of MANY standing ovations that night.
Kate returned to the stage to perform Among Angels from 50 Words For Snow by herself at the piano. What a moment to watch her, all alone, singing and playing. That transitioned in to Cloudbusting which had everyone on their feet. Kate even had the audience sing along at the end and boy did I ever!
All in all, an evening I will treasure for a lifetime. The bitter feeling of its being over was felt nearly immediately after such anticipation over months and months, but we did our best to move through that and spilled out into the warm September night full of energy and life. Who could have asked for anything better?