Release Date: Dec 2, 2016
Record label: Concord
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Art Rock
Kate Bush always exploited technological advancement. In 1979, from just coathangers and Blu-Tack, the trailblazing British pop auteur pioneered the head mic for her vanguard Tour of Life. Her subsequent albums made her one of the earliest adopters of the Fairlight synthesizer that would define the ’80s. Before the Dawn, then, is a surprising throwback: the unexpurgated live album, a document of her 2014 live shows, her first in 35 years.
A bit of surprising news that nobody ever expected to hear was announced on 21 March 2014. British musical icon Kate Bush, one of the most important and influential artists of the last four decades, was set to embark on her first live performances in 35 years with a residency at the Eventim Apollo Hammersmith in London, beginning in late August of the same year. The announcement understandably shocked and roiled the music industry and jolted her fans into a frenzy of jubilation and anticipation.
When news of Kate Bush’s planned 22-night residency at the Hammersmith Apollo broke in March 2014, fans had good reason to keep checking their vital signs. Predictably, when tickets went on sale there was something of a digital stampede, and shows sold out within 15 minutes. Those who missed out may take some comfort in this hungrily anticipated release, which reconstructs a complete live set using recordings from the shows, adding a bonus rehearsal recording of Never Be Mine.
If Kate Bush had stumbled onto the stage at London's Apollo Hammersmith theater on August 26, 2014, sang "Knees Up, Mother Brown" for 15 minutes, and then wandered off, most folks in attendance would have still felt they'd witnessed something remarkable. After all, it was the first time the gifted and reclusive artist had performed on-stage since 1979, and the fact she was greeting her audience at all seemed just short of impossible. Given the craft and ambition of Bush's body of recorded work, it came as no surprise that she had something quite grand in mind for her audience when she made her unexpected return to public performance with a run of 22 shows that stretched from August to October 2014.
A pressing question looms over Kate Bush’s new live release, her first since Live at Hammersmith Odeon in 1994, an album drawn from her then most recent live shows, some 15 years before. That question being: what’s the point? Live albums can only ever hope to give the faintest flavour of the multi-sensory experience of attending a gig, and Bush’s 2014 shows at the Hammersmith Odeon were about as multi-sensory an experience as gigs get. The subsequent album isn’t credited to Bush but the K Fellowship, presumably in recognition of the vast ancillary cast of musicians, technicians and actors required to bring Before the Dawn to fruition – but it obviously doesn’t capture most of the results of their work.
It’s fair to say that Kate Bush’s long-awaited return to live performance in 2014 met all the lofty expectations, with its stunning, multisensory delivery and genuine sense of spectacle. Two years on comes a live album recorded during that 22-night residency at London’s Hammersmith Apollo. Split over three CDs, with one disc each largely devoted to The Ninth Wave (from Hounds of Love) and A Sky of Honey (Aerial), it offers a faithful representation of the show, save for the addition of Never Be Mine, which wasn’t performed during the concerts.
When we think of musicians, fear isn’t usually the first emotion that comes to mind. Even when the stakes are high — say, the first run of shows in nearly four decades — audiences usually assume artists will still have a cool, controlled demeanor. Kate Bush, despite the absolute wealth of accomplishments she has secured over her decades of musicianship, however, felt deep fear.
In 2014, back when we were still allowed to have nice things, Kate Bush did something that made her album releases look regular and expected by announcing Before the Dawn her second ever set of live dates, some three-and-half decades after the last lot. It was fucking amazing, so it was, and if you’re a fan I hope you already know that: it was tough to get tickets, but not Led Zeppelin-at-the-O2 tough, and hopefully there were enough dates and enough tickets that diehards all go in. If you didn’t, I’m struggling to imagine what you’ll think is going on at points in this unexpurgated 3CD set that presents the whole show but none of the visuals.
Bush’s spectacular live return, minus the spectacle When Kate Bush announced to much surprise that she was playing 22 shows at Hammersmith in 2014, 35 years after her only previous tour, anyone hoping she’d flounce on stage in Pre-Raphaelite frocks, cooing all her greatest Bronte references and sneaky-wife stings would have been disappointed. Before The Dawn was a theatrical extravaganza revolving around her two major ‘song cycles’: the Sky Of Honey disc of 2005’s Aerial and The Ninth Wave’s lengthy drowning from Hounds Of Love. An opening section featuring Bush – in magnificent voice throughout – veering from hawk-screech to sugar-lilt on Hounds Of Love and Running Up That Hill was as crowd-pleasing as it got.
“The most magnificent spectacle ever encountered in the world of rock,” Melody Maker called Kate Bush’s first stage show in 1979. Using magic, mime, and video, the Tour Of Life was unlike anything seen before on the concert stage and in many ways pioneered the dynamic multimedia concert shows so standard today. Bush intended to follow the Tour Of Life with a couple more records and another stage tour.
Two years ago, the British singer Kate Bush announced she would be appearing at London’s Hammersmith Apollo — her first shows since she retired from live performance in 1979. To say it caused a frenzy among her devotees is a massive understatement. Flights were booked, websites crashed, dates added. Bush didn’t so much emerge in the late ’70s as much as she crash-landed into its pop landscape.