The KT Fellowship - Before The Dawn album review

Worth the wait – Kate’s live album finally emerges

Cover art for Kate Bush's Before The Dawn

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You had to be there – as they say – but if you weren’t, here’s the next best thing. Since Kate Bush’s critically acclaimed – and then some – comeback shows of autumn 2014, we’ve anticipated the album release. When she returned to the Hammersmith Apollo (née Odeon) stage after 35 years away, moving audiences to raptures with visually breathtaking sets and consummate performances, a new fuse was lit. At long last Before The Dawn arrives, with its three acts on triple-CD (or four vinyl), and while it remains a mystery as to why there’s still no glimmer of a DVD of such a spectacle, it confirms her mastery and perfectionism. The atmosphere survives, as does the sense of suspense as to what might come next.

Of course, without the theatrics, the music shifts into a different context. Those sections of spoken word by actors and helicopter noises take you right back to the night, but for those absent it might feel like stepping into a half-explained Roger Waters opus. You won’t know, for example, that at certain points Kate is singing while apparently at sea or under ice, or interacting with painters and puppets. Nonetheless the music is sophisticated enough to transcend that, and the tripartite structure lends itself to clearly demarked mood changes.

Act One is as close as things get to a “hits” section (not very), with Bush and her admirable band walking on to Lily then glowing through Running Up That Hill, Top Of The City and – added on here from a rehearsal – Never Be Mine. Act Two is The Ninth Wave suite from Hounds Of Love, the epic elegance of which will reduce any Bushophile to floods, while the final section is A Sky Of Honey from Aerial, its early chirrups and whispers climaxing in the euphoric Nocturn and Aerial. Encores are the subdued Among Angels and a crowd-pleasing Cloudbusting.

While some pined at the time for songs from her first few albums, the set list is now a fait accompli. Its dramatic narratives are coherent and affecting. Oddly, Kate’s very first vocal, on Lily, jumps out a bit, but after that there’s a slick while never inflexible warmth to the sound. As during the event, the guest spots by her son Bertie (now credited as Albert) seem a maternal indulgence, but given that insiders say Kate’s chief motivation to break her reclusiveness was to showcase him, they’re a small price to pay. This is a rich, kaleidoscopic document of perhaps the most surprising and unforgettable concerts of this decade, and its glories are multitudinous.

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Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has written about music, films, and art for innumerable outlets. His new book The Velvet Underground is out April 4. He has also published books on Lou Reed, Elton John, the Gothic arts, Talk Talk, Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson, Abba, Tom Jones and others. Among his interviewees over the years have been David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Bryan Ferry, Al Green, Tom Waits & Lou Reed. Born in North Wales, he lives in London.