Wednesday, October 1, 2014

I just know that something good is gonna happen!

Before the Dawn: Hammersmith Apollo
In case you weren’t aware, Kate Bush took to the stage this year in London, 35 years after stepping off it last. Tonight is the last of those 22 shows. I had the great pleasure of seeing it.


There are enough accounts out there of how the evening unfolded, yet it seems a shame to let such an experience go by without comment. Although I don’t have the dedication to or love for Kate Bush’s art required to call myself a huge fan, I took so many shared experiences home with me. Without a doubt, my love for her work grew after those two nights. And I can’t help but to draw some parallels between my own coming of age as a singer/artist and the things I saw on that stage.

Just like an opera production, the show was the same every evening -- a well-rehearsed, planned sequence of events and music, intertwined with lighting effects, choreographed moves, a story line, and other theatrical elements. I really like the trend that the two opposing worlds have taken. Pop concerts move toward the theatrical (not just a band playing their songs one after the other on stage), while theater moves toward rock concerts (it’s been a long journey on Broadway from “South Pacific” and “The King and I” to “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” or “Passing Strange,” for example). Kate Bush songs are inherently operatic - content as interesting and convoluted as any dramma per musica, based on literature or real-life events. Her lyrical palette fluctuates from tender soprano to strident, almost desperate crying (or some other type of noisemaking). There goes another tenor (heh heh).

The concert series has been called a comeback “residency” instead of “tour”, since all the performances took place in the same venue. But this was no comeback. This was a continuation -- albeit with a large gap. Comeback implies failure; depending on how you look at it, Kate Bush consistently failed throughout her career. That doesn’t seem to have stopped her.

Despite the fact that she was the first woman to have a number one hit in the UK with a self-penned song (“Wuthering Heights”), the bulk of her output didn’t make it into the Top Ten, if onto the charts at all. That was the fascinating thing about the event for me. So many people from all over the planet, from all walks of life (well, there was a certain congruence, which my sister and I tried to identify in fellow fans during pre-show ale-drinking at the Swan), came from the farthest reaches of the globe to see this happen. People not interested in charts or flashes in the pan; people who have kept this ardent adoration burning for decades.

The theater holds about 3700 people (mostly seated). Multiply that by 22, and you’ve got over 80,000 tickets sold. Sold out. And procuring a ticket was not for the faint-hearted. My sister, the fervid fan, and I did as many people did -- inserted the concert into a wee London vacation. Ours was, admittedly, mostly Kate-oriented. My sister went to the concert three times. 

Three times.

We also visited a small gallery where the most famous images of Kate Bush were on display. The photographers were present and very approachable. My sister had a book signed by one of them (Guido Harari) while I spoke with the other (Gered Mankowitz). He said, incidentally, that classical musicians are the most difficult to capture. 

With that thought in my mind, I’ve spent a lot of time since wondering what that veil is that singers put in front of themselves. What is that costume or role that we try to fit in when going on stage, or presenting our art to others? There is always speculation when a performer withdraws from the public eye for an extended period. I have nothing new to say about Kate Bush’s oeuvre or her absence from the stage. Tracey Thorn, of Everything But the Girl took the stigma out of the speculation by summing it up thusly:

“If we still ask, where has Kate Bush been all these years and why has she not done this before, my answer would be that I think she has been living the life that made this show possible.”
It’s so much smarter and fulfilling to present something when the time is right, and when you as an artist are ready. Maybe record labels or managers pressure performers in doing more than they’re prepared to handle. It is important, for me at least, to remember that we don’t necessarily have to play by anybody else’s rules but our own. I really appreciated the apparent autonomy that Kate Bush had on that night. Unquestionably, she had help and resources from her entire team. But they were there to help her realize her vision, not the other way around.

Standing near the entrance during intermission, we noticed people leaving. Some were trying to go out and have a smoke or catch some fresh air, although there was a no re-entry policy being somewhat strictly enforced. Others had simply decided to leave the concert. The friendly usher said they were complaining that she wasn’t playing enough of her older stuff. Sure, it was fun to sing along with “Running Up That Hill” and “Hounds of Love,” but what are you here for? 

Even before the intermission, Kate Bush and her band of, well, band members, backup singers and puppeteers (yup, puppets) offered an amuse bouche of what would follow in the second half. A brand new thing, never, ever, ever seen before. You knew the music, but not in this context -- it was like when a stage director comes up with a new concept for a classic opera. You’re going so you can see the ‘now’, not so you can hear the ‘then’. I was really baffled that people could just give up halfway, especially after all the trouble they must’ve gone through to get those dang tickets!
We as artists have to play to our own instincts, and for those who stick with us all the way to the end, those who want to hear the Whole Story. The rest are scalpers, touts, or crooks trying to peddle an intangible worth.

As I write this, Kate Bush fans are spilling out into the street in Hammersmith, trying to get their order in for just a couple more real ales at the Swan, or catch the last Tube to wherever. I’ve only scratched the surface of what I have to say about what this night entailed and what it moved within me. I can say, however that my favorite part was watching my sister with “the child in her eyes”, tears fogging up the binoculars at the wonder of it all.

It was wondrous indeed. Something 

1 comment:

  1. We owe her son Bertie a world of thanks for encouraging her return to the stage. I cried all through "Lily".