Before the Dawn
Kate Bush has always done things her own way. I remember seeing her singing about the characters from Wuthering Heights on Saturday Night Live. It was like nothing anyone else was doing at the time. There were ties to the world of art rock in the theme and musicianship, yet the attitude felt akin to the emerging new wave. In the decade that followed, Kate Bush has never done anything by the established playbook. She toured for a bit in 1978 and 1979 to support her first album, The Kick Inside, but then gave up roadwork. She fully exploited the then emerging medium of the music video to promote her albums.
It was a huge surprise when, 38 years after giving up touring, Bush announced she was returning to live performance. She still wasn’t touring. She wasn’t taking her show to theaters around the globe. If the world wanted to see Kate Bush, they would have to come to the Hammersmith Apollo in London for one of the 22 shows that are documented on Before the Dawn.
Perhaps it’s best that Bush didn’t try to tour the show. The staging was a multimedia event drawing on theater, film and dance in addition to singing and the playing of instruments. At the heart of the show were two suites, “The Ninth Wave” (from the Hounds of Love) and “A Sky of Honey” (from Aerial). The dramatic, narrative nature of the concert was acknowledged by a special Editor’s award, presented at the London Theatre Awards. Before the Dawn is the only contemporary music performance to have won such an honor.
The three discs of Before the Dawn play out as three one act plays. Disc one comes closest to being the greatest hits festival fans may have been hoping for. The set includes “Hounds of Love” and “Running Up That Hill” along with deep cuts such as “Joanni” and “King of the Mountain”.
Disc two is the staging of the “Ninth Wave”. The songs are the thoughts of a woman lost at sea. It is here that the missing visual elements are felt the most. The vocals for “And Dream of Sheep” were recorded in a giant water tank at Pinewood studios while filming the video that became the focal point of the set. While the performance is impressive, the narrative feels a bit confused. The spoken passages probably made more sense in the theatre.
“A Sky of Honey” on disc three celebrates an idyllic summer day. The suite drifts like a breeze on through a meadow. Field recordings of birdsong slip though the mix as fellow musicians. On “Painter’s Link” and “Tawny Moon”, Bush hands over lead vocal duties to Albert McIntosh. The suite concludes with just Kate and her piano on the meditative “Among Angels”. In a nod to rock concert tradition, the show ends with the her hit “Cloudbursting”.
In the liner notes, Bush states that no overdubbing or post-production fixing were used to embellish the sound. That is quite a testament to Bush and her team of collaborators because the sound is immaculate. Before the Dawn demonstrates that Kate Bush is still a formidable artist. So now what I want to know is, what comes next?