All Hail the Queen: Kate Bush Returns in Before the Dawn

Incredibly, boldly, Kate sets aside an orthodox playlist in preference for a three-hour piece of theatre that's as much an exploration of the human subconscious as it is a showcase for Kate's illustrious back catalogue.

So let's say this straight: Before the Dawn is simply the most original, most extraordinary music concert I've ever seen. And that's before you take into account the magnitude that this is Kate Bush's return to the stage after a 35-year absence.

No doubt you've heard much about this show already. The mobile phone ban, at Kate's request, I already knew about, as well as the fact that the audience sit throughout the show. It's also true she sings Hounds of Love and Running Up that Hill and that she doesn't sing Wuthering Heights or This Woman's Work. Or The Sensual World. Or The Man with the Child in his Eyes.

But none of this is as much a disappointment as you'd expect as this is no ordinary concert. This is no sing-through of Kate's greatest hits. No. Before the Dawn is theatre.

Incredibly, boldly, Kate sets aside an orthodox playlist in preference for a three-hour piece of theatre that's as much an exploration of the human subconscious as it is a showcase for Kate's illustrious back catalogue.

The first 30 minutes are deceptive, running as it is much like any other music concert. Only with Kate Bush. A barefoot Kate and her band take to the stage promptly at 7.45pm, are greeted with a thunderous round of applause and then launch into the early part of the setlist (which is where Hounds of Love and R.U.T.H. come in).

Her voice is so strong, so powerful and as beautiful as you'd imagine. All going much as you'd expect but then suddenly, midway through King of the Mountain, the production abruptly cuts out.

And that's where the theatre begins.

A video of a troubled astronomer phoning the coastguard is projected across the back of the stage. The astronomer inadvertently overheard a distress call from a sinking ship and is urging the coastguards to send out a rescue helicopter.

This scene then dissolves to be replaced with a video of Kate, life belt around her, battling to stay afloat in a dark ocean. And I Dream of Sheep starts up, Kate is submerged by the water and The Ninth Wave starts.

The next hour is an extraordinary piece of musical theatre. The bare set is transformed into the ocean and surreal fish with skeleton heads stalk the stage as Kate's dreams and nightmares manifest themselves in front of us

For great swathes of this section, Kate barely sings a note. The music is an accompaniment to the theatre, not the other way round. Through magical illusion she comes and goes from the stage as the band work through The Ninth Wave score from Hounds of Love.

I cannot think of another artist who would walk away from an orthodox setlist in preference for showcasing a story, certainly not for this amount of time. And it's so intriguing. You don't turn your head away. Whether it's the sequence where father and son wait at home for their missing mother or where the decaying fish close in on Kate in the water.

Kate eventually returns and brings the energy back to the stage with the closing numbers of The Ninth Wave - Jig of Life, Hello Earth and The Morning Fog.

The second half of the show is set around the sequence of songs known as A Sky of Honey from her album Aerial. The darkness of The Ninth Wave is replaced with the joy of the sky, the sun and birdsong. A huge impressionistic view of a bright sky with fluffy white clouds transforms the stage as an artist and his model form the narrative basis for this part of the show.

Kate has the audience in the palm of her hand and there's no mistaking she is the star of the show but a mention must also go to the vast design and production team who have weaved together puppetry, video footage, elaborate set design and an eccentric cast of characters including painters, walking dead fish and winged humans to provide the perfect context and visual imagery for Kate's music.

That's not to say that this concert is perfect though. Kate Bush has made no secret that a key reason behind this sudden and surprising return to the stage was to provide a platform for her son, Bertie.

However that commitment really is the sign of a mother's love as not only is Bertie a supporting member in the ensemble but he is also given five minutes for a solo performance. And it's a long five minutes. However he is still young so there is time for his voice and his stagecraft to develop.

But once that indulgence is swept aside the finale of the show is breathtaking. Kate returns to the stage alone, takes a seat at the piano and without any accompaniment, without another soul on stage, she sings Among Angels from 50 Words for Snow.

The song is a beautiful one and as a showcase for that beautiful voice of hers, it could not be beaten. All of us in the Apollo sat in hushed awe as we hung on every word and every note of this song.

And then as a finale there was Cloudbusting. And what a finale! The start of the violins was met with a roar of approval and finally our seated reverence was discarded. Up on our feet, we sang "yay yay yay yo" as Kate added her "cloudbusting, daddy" again and again over the top. It's a moment that will stay with me forever.

It was a rousing end to what will very much be a once in a lifetime experience. I know how fortunate I was to get hold of tickets, as did many others. There were a few wet eyes as Kate took her bow on stage. Bunches of flowers were passed up from the audience and again and again, Kate waved, shuffling her feet slowly towards the exit.

The fact that she seemed so genuinely surprised, so moved by how much she was loved, the more you loved her. Her reluctance to leave the stage was obvious. She would wave some more, and shuffle a little bit closer to the exit until slowly, eventually, she left.

Glib as it sounds, it really was an honour and a privilege to see Before the Dawn. It simply is the most unique and original concert I've ever seen. Yes, she was amazing. Her voice was just beautiful but it's a testament to Kate Bush's extraordinary vision and artistic creativity that even after all this time, and all these years, that she returns with a live show that in terms of imagination and ingenuity, leaves all others in the dust.

I know tickets are close to impossible to come by but it's worth noting that there is a standby queue each day outside the Apollo for returns and tickets that for, whatever reason, are found on the day. I know some people are getting in to see the show that way but the queue does start early.

Eventim Apollo Hammersmith, London to October 1, 2014

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