Words: Justin Hulford.
I’ve been writing about music for quite a while now, both online and in print. It’s been a heady mix of CD reviews, live gigs and some interviews. I was wondering where to start for Through The Wire with its modern fresh feel, and being based in Edinburgh. And then it struck me, how about a live review of a 56 year old women playing in London at her first show of her second tour, the first being in 1979!!! Welcome to Kate Bush at Hammersmith (and to me, still) Odeon.
Bush has always been an enigma, recruited and shaped by late 1970s music moguls, reclusive, innovative and quirky. She has barely played live over the years, doesn’t do many interviews and probably still gets men of a certain age hot under the collar. Back in the day she was one of the very first to wear a headpiece mic so that she could cavort around the stage and threw many more new ideas at her audiences.
So back to August 27th 2014, the first of originally fifteen dates now extended to over twenty. Numerous emails from the promoters threatened that arriving after 745 pm was a no-no, Kate herself pleaded that no-one took pictures or filmed her, and tickets for the gigs were changing hands at over £600. Before you gasp, starting price was around the hundred mark…
On arrival there was a real throng of what appeared to be mainly non-giggers. TV crews lurked looking to film the famous on this opening night and the inside was mobbed. We took our seats and dead on time the band appeared. The crowd went fairly wild as Kate came on with five backing singers, two guitarists, two keys, a drummer and a percussionist, as well as no shoes. In fact one of the guitarists didn’t have any either and the percussionist (are four triangles really necessary?) appeared to be wearing moon boots!
This then started as a fairly ordinary gig with five songs rattled through, including two that I actually knew, “Hounds Of Love” and “Running Up That Hill”. And then it got a little odd although fortunately the show part was now upon us as through those first offerings the crowd seemed to cheer every time she even turned around.
Kate played her way through “The Ninth Wave”, a conceptual piece that featured a sinking ship, a prolonged failed rescue and so much more. Some of the ideas were brilliant such as wafting cloth for waves and amazing skeletal fish heads being worn by performers. But this section seemed to lack direction and as a result occasionally felt quite pedestrian. The sighting of the ship was conducted by dropping a cloth from the heights and projecting an overlong movie onto it. When Kate got carried off by the fish heads they looked concerned they were going to trip and it was an uncomfortable age for her to depart. Throughout this section the concept was allowed to take the lead and the music had to try and fit. It was awkward at times but not as awkward as when her son Bertie, one of the backing singers, attempted an acted piece as her worried son. Oh dear!
Then came an interval. I was a little underwhelmed as that first concept was a little tiresome. Kate had apparently languished in a giant water tank for three days to film some of the fills and I felt her pain. The bonkers part had really taken too much of a hold on proceedings and the artist’s idea had lost its shape.
The second half saw a great improvement. Yes it was mad as anything but it all seemed so much tighter. The songs now led and the theatrics were made to fit them giving a much more satisfying feel. Moons and birds were the theme with the band all shoved over to one half of the stage. It’s hard to describe really as it was so offbeat at times, with musicians in bird helmets at one point, trees descending from the roof, with one penetrating the false end of a piano, and a giant painting interpreting the songs. Sadly Bertie got another slot and proved that his singing was at about the level of his earlier acting, reeking of West End cheesiness, but overall this was a huge step up.
Kate returned for a solo piano track and then another I recognised in “Cloud Busting” before we were allowed to go after three hours or so. It was strange at times, got better as it progressed and could best be described as progressive pop. That a man with his hair shaped into red devil horns was being interviewed outside and no-one really noticed probably gives a hint of some of the imagery on show. Who knows what she can come up with after another thirty five years of planning!