|Kate Bush performing live in London 2014|
A real artist is something more. They take building blocks, simple materials, they tug at our heart strings, they wake us up, they reduce is to tears. A real artist is an alchemist, transforming base materials into something precious, something nourishing. Kate Bush is a magician. A musickian.
The night starts out as a conventional gig, then right in the middle of a song, the entire thing comes to a halt. The impact is doubled by the fact it doesn't end on a beat, or the end of a chorus, it just stops mid-sentence. Then we get something else. Something unique.
The show explores a visually rich theme that still manages to remain suitably amorphous. The use of excellent lighting, good old fashioned smoke and mirrors, pristine video projections, movement, stage and sound design - it's all only reminiscent of Pink Floyd because they're one of the rare few who embrace a kind of technical intertextuality / epic theatricalities / visual SFX in an attempt to mess with your head as much as embellish their own concerts. There is a playful humour present too. But there is none of the vacuous pomp or hollow gestures of stadium rock here. This is more like a modern day Music Hall show.
Think of the way the teenage John Lydon in the early Sex Pistols gigs seemed to have an unlikely air of Norman Wisdom about him, a Dickensian urchinery, like a kind of other-worldly Music Hall entertainer. Like Lydon, Kate Bush appears to exist in-between mediums.
It's refreshing to see someone mix elements of live music, performance art, theatre, video art, lighting and contemporary stage design and make it really work. And it doesn't come across as pretentious. This is clearly who she is, what she needs to do to realize her idea of a live concert.
This is something very different to Gaga's bombastic sensationalism for its own sake, or The Knife's other-dimensiony Drug-Fi live adventures.
I never realized how much her songs owe to a certain kind of dystopian pre-punk rock: the spacious power chords, the drones, the emphasis on rhythm (think Hawkwind or Floyd at their most epic / doom-laden). But she transcends it, makes it her own. It's not about clever chord changes or tricky time signatures. These songs are mood pieces, and they tug at the heart strings and the hips as much as the head.
|Kate Bush ship-wrecked but still singing.|
The band is epic - bringing out the grooves at the heart of these songs. There are no solos, no histrionics, no blues licks. It's all tight chops, bass you can feel, shimmering percussion and pounding beats. Arrangements are honourable to the originals, but there's a freshness to the sound. Nothing feels dated. This is not Prog. Everything is in service to the atmosphere of the song.
There's never a dull moment, but you're never overloaded. There is always some space, on stage and in the arrangements. There are moments where the vocal harmonies threaten discordance, but are ultimately resolved. This reminds us that Kate Bush is no hippie, no New Ager. It's not all sweetness and light. She's not afraid of tension and darkness.
Embracing some innovative in-your-face stage design, there are some stunning moments where the show delves into a dimension somewhere between an amusement park, confrontational performance art and dystopian cinema.
There is a fine balance here between bold tech and minimalist, gentle theatricalities. Highlights include Kate's backing vocalists (wow but that name does them a serious disservice) roaming the stage in matching life jackets emitting red beacon lights in the gloom. Lush video projections, lazer-light and vast swathes of billowing cloth conjure up some lush virtual oceans.
A brilliant custom-built bellowing sound system / smoke machine / lighting rig steals the limelight to stalk the audience in search of our ship-wrecked protagonist.
And then of course there's our fearless band leader, Kate Bush - who appears entirely at home on stage. Humble, but clearly in her element. Her voice is flawless and it's clear that she's totally in control of it.
The entire experience is ultimately more than the sum of its parts. Does it come down to the fact that the music is the result of someone who clearly makes art for the pleasure of making art? Rather than the usual quest for attention, fame, wealth. She is a rare creature in that respect: a performer guided by something more than just ego.