Kate Bush - Before The Dawn - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Kate Bush - Before The Dawn

by Jon Burke Rating:8 Release Date:2016-12-02

Tickets sold out in fifteen minutes for Kate Bush’s fall 2014 residency entitled Before the Dawn - a 22-show run at London’s Hammersmith Apollo. It had been 35 years since Bush’s last concert and as a result the bulk of her catalog had never been performed onstage. In the lead-up to Before the Dawn rabid fans from around the globe converged on London buzzing with anticipation. For the uninitiated this all may have seemed rather peculiar but for fans of Kate Bush this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to worship with a reclusive goddess who, in her own words, wished to perform before becoming “too ancient” to do so. Though Bush is as vibrant, powerful and gorgeous as ever, “ancient” is an apropos appellation for her music because, despite all of the modern flourishes (synths, stagecraft and cutting edge music video), there has always been an undercurrent to her songs channeling something primal. From her bombastic drums to her core themes (birth, empathy, God, nature, longing and death) to her deeply visual storytelling, Kate Bush invites listeners join her around the communal fire and connect to her life and experiences in ways that reflect their own. Expectations for Before the Dawn were incredibly high and fortunately for those in attendance, by all accounts, said expectations were met and exceeded. The Before the Dawn recordings are also quite exceptional though they occasionally suffer from confusing you-had-to-be-there moments that slightly dampen the spirit of the events they seek to capture.

The Before the Dawn album is divided into three distinct sections – Act One is a greatest hits-style warm-up featuring six of Bush’s more popular songs. Act Two consists of a seven song suite known as the Ninth Wave which was originally recorded as the B-side of her Hounds of Love album. The final Act features the A Sky of Honey suite and a brief encore. All said and done Before the Dawn offers listeners two and a half hours of new, live Kate Bush. What is most striking about these rich recordings is the way in which Bush, at age 56, seems to have picked up right from where she left off, both musically and creatively, 30 years prior. The dramatic stage show featuring costumes, puppetry, Bush’s seven-piece band and video elements would have been enough for most fans but what these recordings prove is that Bush’s unique voice is as flawless in her 50’s as it was when she was in her 20’s. As if to prove she’s still got chops, Bush opened her shows with several vocal showpieces including “Hounds of Love” and “Top of the City” and absolutely nailed each performance. After the raucous intro things settle down as the Ninth Wave washes over the audience.

The Ninth Wave suite opens with “And Dream of Sheep” which Bush rerecorded for a stunningly beautiful video segment of the live performance. In the video a life-jacketed Bush is shown floating alone in a darkened ocean singing to the heavens. The Ninth Wave tells the story of a woman adrift at sea, praying for rescue and slowly drowning. Unfortunately, throughout the Ninth Wave, cracks in the audio-only format of the album begin to show. During this section the audience audibly reacts to visual elements of Bush’s stage show that are inaccessible to listeners. What’s worse is the stilted dialog spoken over some of the tracks which comes off as pretentious without a visual referent. Bush’s art often walks a fine line between brilliance and absurdity and by failing to offer the entire experience, including visual elements, some of what she wished to express here is lost. This is not to say Before the Dawn is anything but great… just that its greatness is reduced when elements of the whole spectacle are obscured.

The album’s third act, A Sky of Honey, also occasionally suffers from a lack of visuals – mostly because there is a frequent male narrator (Bush’s son, Bertie) who seems to be telling the story of what is happening on stage. There is a lightness and flowing cohesion to these songs, replete with chirruping birds and humming fields of synth, which defy the notion of individual songs and the applause between tracks is occasionally off-putting. A Sky of Honey has subtle moments of greatness but nothing compares to the final song in the suite, “Aeiral”. The nearly ten minute track starts out subtly with synths and chimes and slowly builds-in drums and nature sounds. By the song’s swirling, colossal conclusion Bush begins wailing over shredding guitars and thunderous percussion and A Sky of Honey finally pays off quite nicely.

The album ends with a purist’s take on one of Bush’s most iconic songs, “Cloudbusting” – telling the story of a persecuted, misunderstood genius and his son. “Cloudbusting” has always felt like a bittersweet march toward the inevitable and Before the Dawn takes that feeling and runs with it. Here the beautiful, tragic finality of “Cloudbusting" is amplified by the addition of a massive chorus of voices who join Bush in the end to bring down the house with their lamentations for the song’s protagonist. Amid rapturous seemingly-endless applause Bush, upon finally seeing the audience for the first time, exclaims, “Oh my God. What a beautiful sight. I will always remember this. Thank you so much!”  Bush’s sentiment actually sums-up Before the Dawn quite nicely: Before the Dawn is the audio recording of an unforgettable experience for those lucky enough to bear witness to Kate Bush’s brilliance and beauty, both audible and visual. What the Before the Dawn album lacks is that full visual connection – both the audience looking at Kate and finally the moment when Kate looks back. The real power of the Before the Dawn recordings is the way it ensures that tickets for future Kate Bush shows will sellout in significantly less than fifteen minutes.

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