This is a live triple album recorded at The Hammersmith Apollo, London during Kate Bush’s 22 date residency in 2014. Each of the three discs represents a very distinct part of the show. Disc 1 consists of seven songs: “Lily” and “Top Of The City”( from “The Red Shoes” (1993)), “Hounds Of Love” and “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God))(from “Hounds Of Love (1985)), “Joanni” and “King Of The Mountain” (from “Ariel” (2005)) and “Never Be Mine” (from “The Sensual World” (1989)). In other words, none of these songs was recorded before 1985. Bearing in mind that the whole of Disc 2 is the entire Side Two of “Hounds Of Love” and the whole of Disc 3 is the entire Side 2 of “Ariel” (along with “Cloudbursting” from “Hounds Of Love” and “Among Angels” from “50 Words For Snow (2011)) and Kate Bush’s first live performances for thirty five years included nothing from her first four albums; no “Wuthering Heights”, basically no compromise.
I was going to write that I love artists who refuse to compromise their beliefs for the sake of their artistry but then I thought of Van Morrison claiming that the current pandemic is just another plot. So, putting Van Morrison to one side for the moment, I love most artists who refuse to compromise their beliefs – think of Neil Young releasing “Trans” which makes prominent use of a vocoder to disguise his voice. Or Bob Dylan releasing five album’s worth of traditional American pop standards. Kate Bush is another magnificent artist who has a belief in her vision and is unwilling to compromise. Which only makes her work more compelling. As an example of that “no compromise” attitude, the words “Kate Bush” don’t appear on the cover of this CD and they only appear on one page of the twenty four page booklet – she plays the pre-recorded synths and she was half responsible for the album artwork. Oh yes and she wrote and produced everything – but only if you look carefully.
During the concerts, fans were encouraged not to use their phones to record the show. The CD took two years to appear and although the shows were filmed professionally, no DVD has been released. There are no YouTube tracks (apart from “And Dream Of Sleep” – see below) and the album doesn’t appear to be on Spotify.
Disc 1 is fabulous. The choice of material is exemplary and the live versions of these songs is dynamic and exciting. The quality of Kate Bush’s singing has, if anything, improved as she has got older and there is no change in the magnificent timbre that she has always displayed. I only really started appreciating Kate Bush when she performed “Running Up That Hill” on “Top Of The Pops” bathed in purple light. The version here is, if anything, superior with some amazing percussion. In a recent MOJO feature, “Hounds Of Love” was voted as her best song. I was initially surprised about that until I listened to it carefully. It’s a typically thoughtful and complex idea from Kate Bush: being afraid to fall in love is similar to being pursued by a pack of hounds. The spoken introduction “It’s in the trees! It’s coming!” are sampled from the 1957 horror film “Night Of The Demon”. The contrast between the fragility of the verses and the horror of the choruses is highlighted by the magnificence of Kate Bush’s singing voice. “Top Of The City” was not a song I had listened to much before I heard this live version. It is a song which bears repeated listening and interpretation. The singer is looking down on a city from on high but why? Is she contemplating suicide or is she an angel from Win Wenders film “Wings Of Desire”? Once again, the strength of Kate Bush’s singing is remarkable. The version of “King Of The Mountain” on this album is extended with maniacal drumming, improvised vocals and a full synthesiser sound, making for a dramatic climax to the first set and ending in a cacophony of noise which is received rapturously by the lucky people who were able to witness it.
And that’s just Disc 1. Discs 2 and 3 are the awesome parts of the concert.
Disc 2 contains the whole of the Second Side of “Hounds Of Love” and is subtitled “The Ninth Wave”. The story is typically weird, telling the story of a woman drowned, frozen under ice, awakened at a witch trial and eventually returned home to her family.
In order to present the first part of the story at the Apollo, a film was made of Kate Bush, lost at sea which was projected onto a large oval screen which hung above the stage. She floated in a huge water tank at Pinewood Studios for the filming but she spent so long in the water during the first day of filming that she contracted mild hypothermia. She recovered after a day off and carried on filming. This is the only official part of the show that can be seen on YouTube.
I read once that the best way to understand Kate Bush is to conceptualise her as being the latest in a long line of eccentric English musicians. This suite of songs is a masterpiece, a wonder of intelligent, accessible progressive rock music incorporating many different genres of music.
The Second Side of “Aerial” is subtitled “A Sky Of Honey” and is utterly stunning. It’s best considered as one continuous piece of music (although it is broken into nine separate tracks) and it tells the story of a single Summer’s day. There are many sounds of birdsong including, memorably and fantastically, Kate Bush imitating birdsong on “Aerial Tal”. The story involves a painter (spoken by Rolf Harris on the original album but replaced by Kate Bush’s son, Bertie, on this album who begins “An Architect’s Dream by shouting “piss off”), two lovers bathing during a crimson sunset with everything climaxing in the next day’s sunrise.
There has been some conjecture as to why Kate Bush would push herself so hard in such a demanding way after not performing live for so long. One possibility is that her sixteen year old son, Bertie, was encouraging her to do so. The shows also gave him an opportunity to perform and a new track “Tawny Owl” is performed by him towards the end of Disc 3.
The final two tracks “Nocturn” and “Aerial” are brilliant and can be considered as one eighteen minute song which builds from a soulful, beautiful beginning to a truly exciting and exhilarating pinnacle of delight. A chorus of five backing singers add to the wonder at the end of “Nocturn” before an interlude of keyboards and soaring vocals from Kate Bush. Drums crash in after two minutes of “Aerial” and her vocals take off singing about the sunrise that she is experiencing. When she sings “What kind of language is this”, it hits the mark exactly. There is no language to describe the wonder of this song as more birdsong greets the new day accompanied by her delighted laughter. It’s overwhelming. Over and over again she sings that she wants to be high up on the roof in the sun. The brilliant musicians make a frantic noise as guitars scream, drums beat mercilessly and Kate is in a moment of wonder which lasts four minutes until the wordless singing by the chorus brings it all to a screeching halt – the audience goes mad and I am here at my keyboard in tears of joy.
All that’s left are two encores. “Among Angels” (from “50 Words For Snow”) was not a single, not a hit and might be a surprise choice to sing at this point of the concert but it is truly remarkable – it brings everything back down from the excitement of the last section with a work of quiet beauty. Possibly relating to “Top Of The City”, the chorus is “I can see angels standing around you. They shimmer like mirrors in Summer but you don’t know it.”
Finally a rip roaring version of “Cloudbursting”. It’s even better than I would have hoped for and the last section where she and the chorus sing “yea-i-yea-i-yea-i-oh” is extended with the audience singing along before it all comes to a crashing end with everyone, audience and artist in a paroxysm of wondrous emotion. The final sound of the album is Kate Bush saying “Oh my God. Thank you so much. What a beautiful sight. Look at you all. Ah. I will always remember this. This is beautiful. Thank you so much.” An artist at one with her audience.