In 2014 Kate Bush triumphantly returned to live performance with her concert series Before the Dawn. The recording of the event is now available to fans who were unable to experience the event first hand. ”Before the Dawn” was released on November 25th in the UK and December 2nd in the US. The three CD, 5 vinyl disc album is an undoctored recording of the event that ran from August 26th to October 1st in London.
Kate Bush’s monumental returned to live performance comes 35 years after her last live concert The Tour of Live. The stage presentation of “Before the Dawn” was a 22 show residency at the Apollo Hammersmith. The tickets for the dates sold out in 15 minutes, which was no surprise considering the vast adoration of her legion of fans and the once in a lifetime flavor of the concert series. The performance was both recorded and filmed for future release. The album release is just the beginning and will hopefully be followed with a video offering of the concert. It has been stated that nothing on the record was re recorded or overdubbed but is the captured music and performances on the evenings in question. Bush ever the perfectionist brought her every skill to the presentation and recruited a plethora of other skilled artisans and musicians. This combination enabled the event to match the hype that was generated with the announcement of the concert dates. Anyone familiar with Bush knew these concerts would not follow a standard concert format. Bush along with the professionals she employed delivered a multi media presentation which included dancers, puppets, shadow and mask work, conceptual staging, 3D animation and illusion. Bush herself would spend 3 days in a floatation tank reenacting and performing songs from The Ninth Wave suite from the second half of The Hounds of Love album. The live performance was stunning and won praise from numerous critics and fans.
For the record I am a card carrying Kate Bush Fan, US branch. So there is some lingering regret that I was not able to attend these concert performances but I was consoled with the fact that these quintessential Bush songs were finally getting a live presentation. I had one question when considering the album release, would this very visually oriented presentation deliver the same impact on a recording? In asking myself this question, I was torn by the excitement of finally being able to hear these songs performed live and hoping I would not be disappointed with the lack of visuals to accompany the music. I can tell you there is no disappointment; Bush effortlessly conveys and merges music that in some cases is twenty years apart in her discography. The album playlist in the same order as the presentation and it is oh so satisfying. The first CD is more of an overview of her many popular songs with included legendary tunes as “Jonni, Hounds of Love, Running Up that Hill and Never Be Mine”, being pulled from various albums. The house band does a stellar job in their translation of the classic songs and Bush’s voice is as vibrant and evocative as ever.
The second CD is the first live concert performance of “The Ninth Wave” telling the story of a woman shipwrecked and her harrowing experience. The third CD is the first live concert performance of the Sky of Honey suite off of Bush’s 2005 album Aerial. Throughout the release it becomes evident that close attention has been paid to every detail and the music is brilliant as these timeless songs unreel. Bush is to be credited for her accomplishment as she took on a daunting task; trying to convey the power of the live presentation on this release, and she succeeds in creating many goosebump inducing moments throughout the album. The recording is almost as good as being there as the album offers an auditory comfort to those not able to avail ourselves of this spectacular event. What also comes across in the recording is the love that was shared back and forth between Bush and the audience. Over the years many aspirants have tried to reproduce the hypnotic power of Bush’s music but she is well and truly the master enchantress and you quickly sense she has the audience under her spell and likewise lures the album listener.
Some of the highlights of the first CD are Joanni, and Never Be Mine which is even more spellbinding in this version than on the 1989 album The Sensual World. Of course Hounds of Love and Running Up That Hill are almost overwhelmingly emotional to hear in a live version after all these years. With that in consideration the most powerful song of the first CD is King of the Mountain off of Aerial. The song really brings out a breathtaking performance from Bush as she sings like a channeling spirit released.
Prior to listening to the album I was torn by what I anticipated more, finally hearing “The Ninth Wave” brought to life or “Aerial” finally getting a live airing. The great thing is I didn’t have to decide they are both on offer to endlessly enjoy. The second CD is a track by track performance of The Ninth Wave with a few minor narrative additions that only enhance the songs. The presentation confirmed many of my personal interpretations of these of songs. The suite is a powerful collection that is thick in meaning that can take time to absorb and process. For fans who have adored “The Ninth Wave” it is so satisfying to see it finally get its day on the stage and experience it done so well. Those further interesting on my take of “The Ninth Wave” and “ The Hounds of Love” can check out my retro review of the album here. Also to be commended is the verisimilitude of the presentation of “The Ninth Wave”, they are some pretty difficult to re enact songs that are translated beautifully. Fans will undoubtedly listen to the disc in its entirety. For those less familiar with the work the highlights are Dream of Sheep, Watching You Without Me, Jig of Life and the luminous Hello Earth. I held my breathe when “Hello Earth” began. It is my absolute favorite song on the album and I was bracing myself to be disappointed. Would this version match the transcendence of the studio version? Simply put, this rendition is the culmination of a long held wish, to hear a live performance of this extremely difficult to recreate song. Like everything that Kate Bush does musically, it is impeccably done and was worth the wait. The final song on this disc is The Morning Fog and it is here you can really feel the intensity of joy both in Bush’s performance and among the audience.
The third CD introduces The Sky of Honey suite off the b-side of Aerial. Here the music which is twenty years after The Hounds of Love switches to a more domestic and not as tempestuous atmosphere. The feel is more impressionistic but the impact is as powerful. The dread and fear of “The Ninth Wave” is gone and a much more serene and sun lit environment exists. The goal is to express the artistic creative urge. It is displayed in the painter of the narrative and the birds that are constantly present. It is on this CD that the lack of the accompanying visual can be sensed, but only slightly and because it is such a visual centered theme. It is only a minor hiccup. Where Bush was the heroine in danger in “The Ninth Wave” she is now a bird woman playing muse for the artist. Also of note on the third CD is the contribution of Bush’s son, Bertie MacIntosh who was 16 at the time of the performances. He portrays the artist in the live production and also wrote and sings the song Tawny Moon. Some would call it nepotism but he is skilled and proves the artistic apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Highlights of the third CD are Sunset, Somewhere In Between, Nocturn, Aerial and Among the Angels. The presentation and the album ends with Bush’s classic from “The Hounds of Love”, Cloudbusting and her reaction to the audience’s ovation is priceless as the love between artist and audience is palpable.
When these concert dates were first announced many were tempted to think this was a victory lap finale to Bush’s career. They should know better, this event is only a culmination of all that has occurred in the past. With the success of the concerts Bush saw eight of her prior albums re-chart simultaneously on the UK top 40, she is the only female UK artist to achieve this feat. Have no fear this is not the last we have hear from Kate Bush. The album and concerts were a thank you to longtime fans and an opportunity to catch up the younger novices to her works. This release is not an essential to the casual fan but is an absolute necessity for those of us who have been pulled into her magnetic musical orbit. Being present for the original performance would have been the ideal, but for those of us who were unable to attend it is a spectacular consolation gift.