Review: Kate Bush – Hammersmith Apollo, London, 05.09.14

Kate Bush

Kate Bush, back in the day

Words: Ralph Mexico

The world is full of devoted Kate Bush fans. These people have all of her albums. These people can list her B-sides. These people know that Revels are her favourite chocolates. These people are well aware that she once had a pet tarantula called Robert Zimmerman.

These people are nothing like me. I’m just a jammy git who fluked a golden ticket to one of the elusively exclusive shows. “I can’t help it if I’m lucky”, indeed.

Legions of those devoted Kate fans were in the Hammersmith Apollo on September 5th (along with lucky old me). They’d made up their Bush-coloured minds before the gig that even if Kate farted ‘Tie A Yellow Ribbon’ into a foghorn for two hours they were going to give her a standing ovation.

At 7.45 the venue was trembling with anticipation. At 7.50 the place shook with fervour when the band took their places. At 7.51, without much fanfare, Kate led a shuffling line of backing singers on a little walk across the stage looking for all the world like a pagan love goddess on the way to the corner shop for some brillo pads and a lotto ticket. The crowd went off the charts bonkers. It was “A Moment”.

We were still buzzing from the novelty of seeing Kate Bush on a stage, so we didn’t notice until near its completion that the first song (later identified as ‘Lily’ by an uber-fan) was rather tuneless. No time to dwell on this however, as suddenly a voice was telling us “It’s in the trees.. It’s coming..”, and we were cast head-long into ‘Hounds Of Love’.

Kate Bush singing ‘Hounds Of Love’. Jesus H. Christ. An awesome song, but delivered here somewhat unspectacularly. And the next one up, ‘Joanni’ was dull enough. The band were on the grey side of bland and the backing singers were getting on my wick. Whatever way you cut it, the mighty ‘Running Up That Hill’ was unforgiveably pedestrian. This was a run-of-the-mill rock gig. Kate had hardly moved from centrestage. The band continued to sound lumpen. ‘Top Of The City’ was polite and uninspiring. Something had to happen. Fast.

‘King Of The Mountain’ was a vast improvement. The band awoke from their coma and started giving it some welly. Kate did a few twirls. It’s always been a stunning number. It was delivered with mucho gusto.

At the song’s close, the bare-chested, man-braided percussionist bounced out from behind his cornucopia of slappy things, and ran to centrestage swirling a yoke like an altar boy’s incense burner over his head. It made a strange whirring sound and turned out to be a hotline to Dr. Batshit McWeirdbrain. Things went loop-the-loop- gaga-nuts from then on.

In a set of three halves, this was “The Ninth Wave” segment. Whereas the opening straightforward run of six songs was merely so-so, “The Ninth Wave” was extraordinary – a “concept suite” of songs (that makes up side two of the Hounds Of Love album) telling the story of a lady lost at sea for the night and thinking of her family and her life.

The music, while glorious in parts, took a back-seat as the mini-soap opera of the rescue took place and Kate flitted about waving, drowning, singing, emoting. There were dancing fish-heads, may-day calls, helicopter noises, a giant floating buoy, filmed flotation tank shenanigans, pumped confetti, smoke, Irish jigs, sirens. All that was missing was a part where Kate’s husband and son had a chat about what’s on tv while lounging in their living room. Oh, hold on – that happened as well. It was absolutely amazing, the whole shebang. Admittedly, I didn’t know what was going on most of the time, but I still enjoyed the experience immensely. Same as reading Ulysses. Or having sex.

Kate said she was taking a break and would see us again after the interval. We didn’t know what to say. That “Ninth Wave” section was astounding. As good as anything ever performed on a stage. And that includes the other day when Bono made poverty disappear forever by touching fingers with E.T. while launching a new line of electric nose-hair clippers.

The interval couldn’t end quickly enough. More Kate was needed. I speed-read the tour programme that basically said “I’m mad, me”, and charged £15 for the privilege. The pages were full of guff about her wonderful son, Bertie, who was everywhere on the stage in the first half. All that can be said about wee Bertie is that as sons of talented, mercurial singers go, he’s got very red hair.

The third half of the show was the “A Sky Of Honey” suite, aka sides 3 & 4 of the album Aerial. Kate sat at the piano and took us on a divine journey through a summer’s day. There was birdsong and church bells; a wooden puppet and a set of giant doors. Bertie turned up as a painter and sang a cringing lament to the moon. Whereas it had been all very nautical for “The Ninth Wave”, it was all about the birds for “A Sky Of Honey”. The band even donned bird masks as the music rose and rose and rose… and then sunset appeared and things became lush and calm. It was beautiful, just gorgeous.

The applause was heartfelt and loud as Kate and crew skipped offstage, only for Ms. Bush to reappear quickly, alone at the piano (which had a tree shedding slow leaves perched on its lid). She sang a lovely ‘Among Angels’ even though everyone in the audience was hoping she’d break into ‘Wuthering Heights’ just, y’know, because…

The whole venue was on their feet and doing some bad “nervous uncle at wedding” dancing for the final blast of ‘Cloudbusting’. We could have danced all night. We could have gone “Orgonon” and on and on (that’s a Kate Bush-themed gag that will be lost on everyone except devoted K.B. fans… such as I, obviously).

So, was “Before The Dawn” (the prog-rockish title given to this series of gigs) worth all the hoop-la? Yes, Yes, Yes – a thousand times “Yes”. We may never see the likes again. If I only could, I’d make a deal with God and get a ticket for another night’s performance. Has anybody got Bono’s phone number handy?

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Cork music since 2010
Millroom 2,
3rd Floor,
Thompson House,
MacCurtain Street,
Cork City,
Conor O'Toole
Graham Lynch