I terms of appreciation I think it's safe to say that when it comes to Kate Bush I was a very early adopter. I loved her from the moment I first heard her voice and pretty much bought everything she released, including her first live EP and even a book of poetry! Many years on, for both of us, Kate decided to once again take to the stage and took up residency at The Hammersmith Apollo for 22 sold out shows back in 2014. Now, more than two years since those legendary performances, Kate Bush has released 'Before The Dawn', a set of albums which captures those live shows.
I wasn't fortunate enough to see any of Kate's live gigs so was very much looking forward to hearing her latest release. Having not heard any of the live recordings before I was preparing myself to be objective rather than gushing or sentimental. It saddens me to say so but I needn't have worried. On many levels 'Before The Dawn' is brilliant; breath taking even. It is superbly performed, beautifully sung, theatrical and, as you would have suspected played out with faultless precision.
The live recordings are no doubt a very accurate representation of the show itself. Split into three acts it covers an initial, more conventional, live set followed by 'The Ninth Wave' (Side 2 of Kate's 1985 album, 'Hounds Of Love') and finally 'A Sky Of Honey' (Side 2 of Kate's 2005 Album, 'Aerial') Kate has said that she found the first part of her show the most difficult and that she didn't want it to be at all conventional, and, that it had to have a "narrative" running through it. The shows themselves were widely critically acclaimed, described as "stunning", "remarkable" and even "staggering". Unfortunately, as accurate a document as they maybe, they are not what we have here to entertain us. We are missing the drama, the theatrics, the visuals and the atmosphere. 'Before The Dawn' is a lot like listening to a piece of theatre where the actors are no doubt at the top of their game but when you're removed from the moment you lose, in part, the very essence of the piece they're presenting.
The first act, the more traditional live recording, is for me the best of the three and the one most likely to get played again. It is full of passion and promise and, as is evident from the appreciation of the crowd, the set that connected with its audience in its entirety. From the opening bars of 'Lily' through a fantastic version of 'Hounds Of Love', a powerful rendition of 'Joanni' to a quite brilliant, and much loved, 'Running Up That Hill', to the close out, connecting track 'King Of The Mountain' Kate and her band sound superb. It is clear that the band are 'as tight as a gnat's ass' and that the quality of the musicians assembled is of the highest quality. This however does, for me at least, present something of a (Purely subjective and personal) misgiving.
It depends on how you like your live music I suppose. I like it to have a personality all its own, to have character, spirit, energy and life. Whilst Act 1 clearly has that in spades I found Act 2 and 3 to a large degree a little sterile, even flat and at times lacking some soul. 'Before The Dawn' is after all a contemporary music performance not a recital or a piece of classical music performed by a leading orchestra. In terms of performance it is undeniably brilliant but that doesn't translate, for me, into an overly enjoyable album. There is next to no interaction (Aside from the opening and closing tracks) throughout and an actual sense of tension rather than enjoyment. Kate has said that her favourite part of each show was at the end when she could take out her ear pieces and let the atmosphere in; when she could hear and feel the crowd. You can actually hear that sense of relief I think as she comes towards the end of her set with a terrific version of 'Aerial'. Here, and with the final track 'Cloudbusting', Kate brings everything full circle as she closes out a memorable show with an obvious audience favourite.
To maintain the 'narrative' Kate decided to not use any of the tracks from here first four albums which I think is, at the least, a crying shame. Clearly all of her music is much loved and cherished and she is adored and respected by fans and critics alike. It was however her choice, her vision, her ideas and her songs that are captured here on 'Before The Dawn' and no one can deny its quality of performance, its intricate detail and its polished refinement. I think for me though it's just a bit too polished, sounds at times oddly lifeless and because she's decided to make it themed/conceptual rather than conventional doesn't necessarily translate that well to this format. I still love her music and have a huge respect for the her in making this set of performances a reality, but, I'm sorry to say, 'Before The Dawn', will not be one of her go to albums.