Is this the place where the crossroads meet? And if so, which way will they go? Thursday evening (October 2) was Kate Bush’s final ‘Before The Dawn’ live show, bringing her run of 22 sold-out gigs at London’s Eventim Apollo to an end. As the BBC reports, she was coy about when she’d be back again. It would, she said, be “a while” until she returned. A while? A while? How maddeningly vague. That could be a month or a year or a decade or another 35 years. It could be longer. “A while” suggests, at least, that she will be back, but “a while” also gives no clues about when exactly that will be. The wait begins, all over again.
And yet, perhaps that’s for the best. A big part of me wants her to come back as soon as possible, or make a heroic headline performance at next year’s Glastonbury: a magical show on a mighty arena, turning the Pyramid Stage into her own, strange theatre of madness. In all honesty, a part of me wishes I could watch ‘Before The Dawn’ every evening from now until the end of time, like some mad despotic Roman Emperor demanding his own personal entertainment in a Coliseum. But how can you top ‘Before The Dawn’ without going away, plotting a next move and elaborately stitching together something that goes beyond a normal performance? How can you devise a show like that (and let’s be clear, here: the word ‘gig’, with its spit’n’sawdust connotations, doesn’t even begin to cover what happened there) without taking a long time to hone the details? I didn’t go for the final curtain call, but I was there for the penultimate show, and it was unbelievable. So unbelievable, in fact, that I don’t want her to come back and do it again next year, or just make a few more tweaks and repackage it. I want her to come up with something just as strangely amazing, something completely new. Even if it does take another 35 painstaking years.
Before these shows, I think most people would have said they would be content just to see Bush perform, no matter what form it took. I’m not sure that’s true, though, and the opening of ‘Before The Dawn’ seemed designed to toy with that. As brilliant as it was for her to stride onstage and belt out ‘Lily’ and ‘Hounds Of Love’ and ‘Running Up That Hill’, that opening bevy of songs did feel slightly… normal. Sure, normal for Kate Bush means a level of magnificence that most mortals could never hope to reach, but it was simple; it was straightforward; it was routine. But then the lightning flashed and the bullroarer thundered, and the bonkers ‘Ninth Wave’ suite began – with its fish-headed dancers, its footage of Bush shivering in cold water singing ‘And Dream Of Sheep’, its search helicopters whirring in the sky – and you realised just why Bush is so special. In a dull, tacky ointment of half-arsed reformation gigs and by-the-numbers stage returns, she was the greatest fly of them all: an artist who didn’t want to just make a return but make a lasting impression instead. If that takes her a long time to put together, then so be it; anything less just wouldn’t do at all.
I’ve heard some people mutter about it being a bit too ‘am-dram’, what with its incorporation of performance theatre and art. But then, having a dig at Kate Bush for being a bit ‘am-dram’ is like criticising the Buddah for sitting down or the Dalai Lama for being a bit introspective or Malcolm Tucker for being foul-mouthed. That earnest, sincere desire to do things differently – the idea that songs can be more than just songs and performances can be more than just band, singer, crowd, go-home – has been part of her makeup since ‘The Kick Inside’. And that sense of being at a play rather than a music concert completely worked; there was something so earnestly joyous about watching her with her crew and supporting cast at the end, all clapping in time to the music as she sang ‘Cloudbusting’ (which is, I’d like to add, probably the world’s greatest pop song and should be piped into everyone’s house every morning, like some weird Bush-like version of Big Brother in ‘1984’), like the encore of the world’s best pantomime.
For my money, the elaborateness worked and had purpose. It wasn’t frills and bells and whistles, but it brought those songs to life, and it weaved them together. The loneliness and the terror and the fear of ‘The Ninth Wave’, in which Bush is alone and adrift at sea, turns blissful on ‘Aerial”s ‘A Sky Of Honey’ with its summery glow. Before Tuesday, ‘Aerial’ was an album I liked rather than loved; now, it’s shifted into new shapes. New patterns have emerged. I don’t think that would have happened without that stage backdrop of puppets and painters and birds and changing skies.
Please then, Kate: don’t feel harassed or hurried into coming back too soon. You’ve earned the right to take as long as you like and to do whatever you want. Even if takes another 35 years, it’ll be worth it – and we’ll all gladly wait for something so special.