Singer defies weight of expectation on her comeback live performance to thrill audience with her theatrical imagination and undiminished voice
The weight of anticipation bearing down on Kate Bush’s 5ft 2inch frame ahead of her opening night must have been near unbearable. With 77,000 tickets sold out in 15 minutes for the 22 shows, let alone the acres of column inches given over to her Lazarus-like return to live performance after 35 years, Bush, who has often confessed to stage fright, must have been petrified.
Not that any of us would know. Bush makes Kate Moss seem voluble and shrouded in secrecy, all anyone was certain of was that the 56-year-old mother wouldn’t be doing something as unseemly as donning the tight leotard, or thigh high leather boots from the Babooshka video that caught so many men’s attention when she arrived on the scene.
She has no need. Bush has proved over the course of ten albums to be a rare star who has, as shown by the hysteria over this return, gathered more fans over the decades, despite or perhaps even because of her singular musical path and elusive presence.
So there was something daring, sly even about returning to the West London venue of her brief 1979 three show run, begging comparison with her younger self, or maybe trying to obliterate it. The first quarter of the show seem determined to do the latter. Bush boldly strode out in front of her band and backing singers in bare feet and an extravagantly tassled jacket that made her look like a cross between Loretta Lynn and Sandy Shaw. There was something touchingly gauche and bashful about her as she awkwardly twirled around the stage.Yet while her stage craft might have been creaky, her voice was an undiminished roar, surprisingly rich and powerful after such a long break.
The second part of the show dialled up the drama with the Ninth Wave, the second half of her 1985 Hounds of Love album, throwing in ferocious flying helicopters, theatrical skits and video segments including Bush in a flotation tank. For the third act she played out the entire second half of her 2005 album Aerial, a languid Joycean reverie moving through a summer’s day. Her 16-year-old son Bertie played a major part throughout and she looked on adoringly.
Anyone hoping for a greatest hits set including the likes of Wuthering Heights would have been disapponted: Bush as ever was not going to follow in any rock comeback tradition. And with so much back catalogue that has never been played, this was always going to be a snapshot. Her adoring fans were in ecstasy, sometimes to the point that where their frenzied dancing in the old Bush style called for a security guard to restrain them in keeping with the rather formal atmosphere of the night.
Throughout, the pace was resolutely mid-tempo,the narratives sometimes obscure and the skits often hammy – in one artists ‘ scene from the Aerial segment, literally as exciting as watching paint dry.
But nonetheless there was something thrilling about seeing the often bonkers but still delightful imagination of Bush run free after all this time, apparently untouched by the frenetic pace of the digital world. Perhaps that is why she had asked everyone to turn off their phones, so you could experience the world as quietly and still childishly wondrous as Bush does.