On the morning of March 21, I looked at my email and saw a message from katebush.com with the title “Pre-Sale Code”. That’s weird, I thought, an obsessed fangirl like myself would know if Kate Bush had a new record coming out, and I haven’t heard anything. What could possibly be going on sale? So I opened the message – and I screamed.
Kate Bush was going to play live.
To understand why this was such momentous news, you need to know that the last time Kate played a live show was in 1979. Yes, 35 years ago. She’d made occasional guest appearances at other people’s shows since then, although the last time that happened was in 2002. Kate playing live was something that most fans had reluctantly accepted was never going to happen again – especially after it was rumoured that she might appear at the closing ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics, but didn’t.
For me, Kate’s absence from live shows was particularly painful. In 1979, I was in London a week before what turned out to be her only concert tour was scheduled to play at the London Palladium. I was doing a youth-hostel-and-backpacking trip around Europe, and I considered changing my return flight and staying another week to see Kate’s show. But London was a very expensive city, I was broke, and at that time pretty much every act that was big in the UK eventually came to North America. So I concluded that I would see her when she toured in Canada, and went back home. And since then, I had been kicking myself about missing her show. I told anyone who asked me that if she ever played live again I was going to see her, even if it meant quitting my job.
So when I looked at that email, I thought: I have to do this. And after a frantic middle-of-the-night ticket purchase and navigating the process of making travel arrangements, I did. 35 years later, London is still a very expensive city; thankfully, I didn’t have to quit my job to get there, but I’m still broke. And even after returning home, I’m still somewhat in disbelief that I actually got to see Kate in person – but I’m so glad that I did.
There are lots of detailed reviews of “Before the Dawn” on the web, so I’ll briefly summarize the structure of the show. It opens with six songs performed in a concert format. Then there are two extended set pieces: The Ninth Wave, the second half of the 1985 album Hounds of Love, and A Sky of Honey, the second half of the 2005 album Aerial. The best way I can describe these is the way my seatmates for the first show described them: “modern opera”. Each set of songs is performed within an elaborate staging, with connecting elements that enhance and frame their themes.
I had the opportunity to see three performances of the show, and I was completely blown away each time with how brilliantly and creatively the show is put together. The staging ranges from incredibly simple effects to very complex ones, and every detail contributes to the impact of the performance. Even putting my fangirl bias aside, this is still one of the best-produced shows I have ever seen.
And Kate herself? Her voice has changed and deepened, but that gives even more emotion and nuance to her singing. And for someone who hasn’t performed live in so long, she has amazing presence and confidence; as Tracey Thorn says in this excellent article, “she must have been practising, on her own in a barn somewhere, for the past 35 years”. For me, it was a little overwhelming to realize that Kate really was on stage in front of me, and that what I thought would never happen was actually happening (and yes, I did burst into tears a couple of times). But I’m so impressed that she came back to live performing when she wanted to come back – even if her fans would have wanted her to do it a lot sooner – and that she made that return the way she wanted to. She could have just done a standard greatest-hits show, but “Before the Dawn” is so much more than that. It says a lot about her as an artist, and the thought and commitment she puts into her work, that the show is so different.
A couple of people have asked me if she might tour the show, or whether other musicians might follow her format of doing a series of shows at a single theatre. My honest answer to both questions is: I don’t know. Because of the staging, the show would be very expensive to tour, but the downside of staying in one place is that only people who can travel to that place get to see the show. But clearly Kate has proven that there is a market for unconventional ways of doing live concerts. “Before the Dawn” might turn out to be a game-changer in more ways than one – and I’m just glad that I got to see it for myself. Thank you, Kate.