Sunday, September 28, 2014

Kate Bush: Before The Dawn - a lifetime experience comes true

When Kate Bush announced back in March 2014 that she was returning on stage, after 35 years of not touring, to perform a series of concerts in London's Eventim Apollo (once Hammersmith Apollo, the last venue she played on her 1979 Tour Of Life), fans worldwide entered a state of shock, Initial disbelief segued into joy, then anxiety about securing a ticket or sorrow because it seemed impossible to. The fact that all gigs would only be performed in that venue made people start planning way ahead about the possibility of seeing her on stage, live, at last.

Of course not only die-hard fans scrambled to get a ticket when they finally became available. It seemed the whole world did. 15 minutes later, all were gone, all 22 gigs sold out. And despite the strict rules and conditions of getting a ticket and also securing the entrance (with photo ID), scalpers begun selling them on eBay and elsewhere in prices reaching £1500 (the most expensive tickets on regular sale, excluding hospitality packages, were £135).  People who were already subscribed to her website, got a special pre-sale code and secured tickets two days before the general sale. I was one of that happy lot.

Suffice to say, I could not believe that I would be able to see her live, be in the same room with her, when I secured the ticket and made all necessary arrangements for the London trip. It all became much more real when I arrived in the UK on the 10th of September and much more when the 13th dawned. Starting the day with a climb up on the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral seemed fitting: Her Top Of The City song featured in the set list and kept going through my mind as I enjoyed the incredible vistas of the city below me. Soon I would be listening to her singing it live.

Photo by Ken McKay/REX Kate Bush: Before The Dawn live at The Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith, London, Britain - 26 Aug 2014

Getting to the Apollo was easy and quick, just a trip on Hammersmith, getting off at the same name station and there I was. Sporting an Aerial original t-shirt, it was easy to be spotted by other fans getting there. The camaraderie and sense of common cause of strangers meeting for the first time to see a favourite artist on stage was something I have never felt before in my life in any similar circumstance. But how can any circumstance be similar to seeing Kate Bush live?

Photo by Noble & Bright/REX Kate Bush: Before The Dawn live at The Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith, London, Britain - 26 Aug 2014

Although  I had arrived relatively late, only 15 minutes before doors opening, getting inside was quick despite the huge queue unravelling outside Apollo. Even the ticket and ID checks were breezy and it seemed I barely had time to have the obligatory photo of me outside the venue. But what was more interesting was still ahead of us.

Me outside Eventim Apollo, giddy with anticipation. Photo taken by a lovely Norwegian chap I met on the Tube, who was attending for the second day in a row.

The venue was spectacular - an old art deco 1930s cinema that had been turned into a concert hall, Apollo had been in the last stages of refurbishing when Kate reached out to them to see if it would suit her needs. Happily it did and now we were inside, ready to be transported to the unique worlds of her imagination. But not before we made a dash for the official merchandise stands that were set up inside, ready to sell mementos to the fans. Must say that the program is one of the best ever: a veritable book, printed in great quality paper, with fantastic art and layout. Kate herself wrote the notes, telling the story of how all we would see and hear came to pass.

Before The Dawn stage, photo by Stratos Bacalis. 13th of September 2014

The stage was bathed in blue light. After snapping some quick photos of the theatre and the stage, some with me near it (yeay), I settled on my seat in the rear stalls and tried to make time go quickly by reading the notes in the program. Minutes before starting time (19:45) everyone was in their seats, waiting with bated breath.

Photo by Ken McKay/REX Kate Bush: Before The Dawn live at The Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith, London, Britain - 26 Aug 2014

The first thing we heard was the intro/prayer to Lily, her song from The Red Shoes. The way she entered, barefoot, beaming that beatific smile of hers, accompanied by the line of her back up singers (son Bertie in tow) under the thunderous applause and cheers of the audience did not, could not, prepare anyone for what would later follow. Seguing immediately into the song, her voice, a bit rough during the first line but immediately finding its proper volume and tone, made us feel all warm and fuzzy and giddy. We were there. She was here. We wee together in the same room and she was smiling and singing to us. All was finally right with the world.

Photo by Noble & Bright/REX Kate Bush: Before The Dawn live at The Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith, London, Britain - 26 Aug 2014

As she kept on singing song after song, in gorgeous renditions, greatly faithful to the album originals but embellished just that much to make them sound even better on stage, she prepared us for what was coming next: a theatrical production of The 9th Wave, her suite of songs from her 1985 Hounds Of Love album (of which she sang all but two songs). Ending King Of The Mountain (in its best form yet) with thundering music and two canons shooting golden yellow confetti towards stage and audience alike, some reaching even the circle seats, we were treated to a filmed sequence of an astronomer notifying the coast guard of a ship wreck called "The Celtic Deep".

Photo by Ken McKay/REX Kate Bush: Before The Dawn live at The Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith, London, Britain - 26 Aug 2014

Then it was her, in the water, on a projection screen, all alone in the water, singing And Dream Of Sheep. Even having already read about it and having seen official photos, it still sent shivers down my spine. Even the theatrical bits inserted, with Bertie as her son, in a dialogue with his stage father about everyday things, blissfully unaware that their mother is in danger of dying, were not able to shake the sense of gloom and doom the rest of the set up lead us to.

Photo by Ken McKay/REX Kate Bush: Before The Dawn live at The Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith, London, Britain - 26 Aug 2014

The staging and performance of this suite of songs kept everyone on the edge of our seats, going through the story of a woman drowning in the cold wild sea, even including a helicopter out on a rescue mission for her (a special light/speaker rigging travelling above the audience almost felt like the real thing). We felt like being there, in the sea, in the dark and cold of the night, living the moment along with Kate. Dancers dressed like Fish People ominously tried to take her into the deep - and seemingly at the end of Hello Earth managing to do so, taking her seemingly dead, on their hands, off-stage and through the audience,

Photo by Ken McKay/REX Kate Bush: Before The Dawn live at The Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith, London, Britain - 26 Aug 2014

But then the screen became alight with her hand grasping a rescuer's hand and all was right again, seguing into a very happy, joyous celebration of The Morning Fog, the song closing the suite. Kate, the band, the backing singers and the dancers all on stage simply enjoying the moment (like they did throughout I must say), the audience clapping along with the rhythm. Kate was beaming with appreciation, like we were too. And then it struck me: she felt like a mother to us, full of pride and joy and unconditional love and respect that was beaming back and forth between her and the audience. She left us with the promise to return soon after a small intermission.

Before The Dawn, intermission. Photo by Stratos Bacalis, 13th of September 2014

The interval was needed - we had to gather our wits and out jaws from the floor, try to take in and comprehend what we had just witnessed before going forth with the next part. So after we were all refreshed and replenished, we took our seats again for the next part of our Kate journey. This time around it was another suite of songs that was elaborately staged by Kate and team (The KT Fellowship, ha!): Aerial's A Sky Of Honey. A journey through a day's end, from dusk till dawn, through birds and an artist (Bertie again as The Painter) with special quest Tesoro (Treasure in Italian) the puppet. 

Photo by Ken McKay/REX Kate Bush: Before The Dawn live at The Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith, London, Britain - 26 Aug 2014

It is a completely different beast than The 9th Wave. Less literal as a story, with the surreal touches of the puppet and bird song (Kate performs Aerial Tal's birdsong even better than in the album recording), at times it gives away the difficulty of making it worthy of staging - bar the brilliant music. But Kate being Bush, she pulls it through superbly, with her excellent band and singers and dancers (mostly actors in this part) more than able to match her talent and prowess. My only pet peeve throughout this part is her son. Bertie may be the one who prodded his mum to return to stage after all these years (and be artistic director too), but his presence on stage does not match the rest of the cast neither physically (movement, acting) nor musically (his singing voice is probably not yet fully matured). Inserting the only new song of the performance, Tawny Moon, before Nocturne, for him to perform, Kate thrusts him squarely in the spotlight. He is only a teen yet, 16 years old, and it shows. But again, along with other minor imperfections, this makes this experience only more human and warm. She is a doting mother after all. And again, there is that feeling of unconditional love coming from her, this time more profoundly displayed in her affections for the puppet, which is continuously threatened by Bertie and the birds.

Photo by Ken McKay/REX Kate Bush: Before The Dawn live at The Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith, London, Britain - 26 Aug 2014

Of course, this being Kate, and this being a journey from dusk till dawn, it is not all lovey-dovey (pun intended). The fear of birds displayed by the puppet, combined with Kate's slow transformation into a blackbird gives a sinister feel at some points, making the whole experience even more surreal. The magnificent lighting and projection effects enhance and support this, as well as the feeling of passing from an afternoon through the night towards the sunrise. There are moments when the stage looks like a literal reproduction of a renaissance painting.

The climax of course is Aerial, with its thundering beat and Kate shouting "I want to go up up on the top", and all that after Tesoro seemingly murdered a bird on stage. The puppet even comes "alive", walking through the stage unsupported by its puppeteer at the end, having broken the ties to whatever kept it down (coming of age?). Huge trees fall from above stage - one goes right through her piano. And Kate? She does become a bird, after going through the song wearing a black feathered wing on her arm while the band dons Venetian-like bird masks: at the very end, the scene is immersed in darkness, then a spotlight hits the huge Moorish double doors on-stage and Kate flies through them briefly towards the audience, having donned two huge black wings. It's only a moment - blink and you missed it. But it stays indelible in your mind, etched permanently there like all of this fantastic, otherworldly experience.

Photo by Ken McKay/REX Kate Bush: Before The Dawn live at The Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith, London, Britain - 26 Aug 2014

Is it over? Of course not. She wouldn't end it all just like that. After thanking us again (she has thanked us so many times as we have given her standing ovations - a lot), everyone goes away, the stage goes dark and, after a few moments, she comes out again to rapturous applause and sits at the piano. If, even after this whole performance, one thought of her bursting into one of her more well known ballads, she has none of it. The song she performs is Among Angels, from 50 Words For Snow, her 2011 album (and last one to date). Brilliant, sublime, it becomes even better than the original studio recording. She gets up after it ends, again thanking us all and bringing the band, the singers and dancers on stage to take part in our admiration of her. She even jokes about "Who put this tree here?". And then rewards us again, this time with a brilliant version of Cloudbusting, the audience clapping along and singing along like a big happy family. And then, it is really over. We have to go home - "Travel safe" she bids us farewell.

The show is brilliant in every possible way and then some. It begins as a simple rock gig but turns into a theatrical extravaganza, like a West End musical mixed in a concert. It is immediately obvious why she picked this type of venue. As is the choice of material, especially after seeing the third act (if we consider the first six songs as Act I, The 9th Wave is Act II and A Sky Of Honey is Act III). Her voice in that is exactly like listening to the album. Same goes for the songs from Director's Cut like Lilly, which are more recent recordings. She cannot perform her older stuff with the voice she had back then, which is of course only natural. The 9th Wave and the rest of the Hounds Of Love songs do sound different than what one has been accustomed to listening. And they sure do - it is 29 years since they were recorded. But I like them even more now - having the experience of seeing them performed live makes them even more poignant, more coherent, making them take a life of their own. As is the case with the rest of the songs from these performances as well. And this is just one of her gifts.

I still have not quite properly comprehended what went on that night - just hope that the DVD coming out soon, after two of the concerts were filmed, will help with repeat viewings. What I do know is that this was the best concert/performance/show I have ever been too and it is highly unlikely that it will be surpassed for the rest of my life. Thank you Kate Bush - and all of the many talented people making up the KT Fellowship. Hope "it's only just begun" indeed.

Photos as credited above. All uncredited photos were taken from various Kate Bush pages in Facebook - if you recognize your photo and want it credited/taken down, please contact me.


  1. Brilliant Stratos,
    I really enjoyed reading that.
    It must have been a wonderful experience for you, she really is fantastic isn't she?
    Well done.

  2. Lovely, what a fantastic experience - thanks for sharing!

  3. I've read many many reviews of BTD but this is one of the best. I went to the show on 9 September and I'm trying to remember every detail (impossible!). I'm still trying to find the words to describe what I saw, it's an experience I know will stay with me for ever.

  4. Thank you for sharing! Wish I had the time and money to experience it. Hopefully there will be a DVD/Blu Ray release! xxx

  5. I got there on a tout ticket on 30 Sep and for the closing show the following night. Truly was the most thrilling experience of my life. I agree with you, that no gig will ever come close and I go to approximately 35 gigs per year, but I'm absolutely fine with that cos, Goddammit, I got to see Katie B! Twice! It's my 4th Katieversary today and I'll be playing my BTD records and watching all the clips I can find. God Bless the rulebreakers!