While you try to catch your breath and reorganise your sense of reality after three hours of an astonishing, immersive and utterly singular show, the one thing that instantly becomes apparent through the mist is that Kate Bush is not one to cede to your run-of-the-mill expectations.
The whole night feels unreal and unravels in a dreamlike fashion – even attempting to put it into words here it seems to dissolve on the screen. That’s not just because of the feverish speculation that came before the show or the fact that Bush hasn’t performed in concert since 1979, but also because whatever your hopes or anticipations for this show – one of the most eagerly awaited pop performances in history – Bush turns them on their head and pours them away in an avalanche of artistic contrariness and outlandish theatre which sees the stage filled with a wooden mannequin, fish skeletons, sheets billowing like waves, a preacher, a giant machine that hovers above the audience pounding like a helicopter as well as lighthouses and living rooms, axes and chainsaws.
Yet through all the theatrics and artistry one thing remains constant, and it’s the thing that shines through the most: the rush of humanity that ties all the ideas together; the one thing that takes Bush to that other place. It’s the innate heart that pulses through all this theatre and all these ideas: the simple truths of love, hope and family life that hold all her ideas together.
‘I feel your warmth,’ she says appreciatively as the crowd passionately cheer and clap her every move and gesture. And it’s her shy but generous smile at the response from the crowd which shows exactly what this means to her.
This is the weight of 35 years being lifted – thrown off with the skilfulness and heart that shows Kate Bush is no ‘mythic’ artist but a very real, supremely talented original. Tonight is an unequivocal demonstration that she’s a one-off: only she has the ambition, nerve and imagination to pull off the ideas that had filled her mind.
Yet at first it seems she’s going to play it pretty straight. Barefoot and dressed in elegant black, she strolls around the stage gently, occasionally twirling. It begins with ‘Lily’ as she leads a small group of backing singers that includes her son Bertie (who, she says, has given her the "courage" to return to the stage). The band that line up behind her are as tight as you would imagine. They play ‘Hounds Of Love’ and ‘Running Up That Hill’. They sound huge, they sound brilliant. If there’s one thing you notice most it’s that her voice is remarkably powerful and it’s brilliant on ‘King Of The Mountain’ which brings the opening ‘scene’ to a close, heralding a storm as a bullroarer fills the air and cannons fill the theatre with confetti.
It's now time for the drama of 'The Ninth Wave', the second half of 'Hounds of Love'. Here we see a story of resignation and resurrection played out in the most theatrical of ways. We see Bush in a lifejacket floating in water, looking up at the camera as if waiting to be rescued (she’s reported to have spent three days in a flotation tank at Pinewood Studios to create the special effects). At one point fish skeletons dance across the waves, at another a helicopter searches the crowd, before a living room (yes, a living room) floats across the stage in which a son and his father – played by Bertie and Bush's husband Danny McIntosh – talk at length about sausages.
It’s hard to comprehend exactly what’s happening but the band skilfully navigate the pastoral prog and Celtic rock. Even when the music isn’t captivating, the sheer sense of spectacle means you can’t avert your eyes for a second. As the ‘The Morning Fog’ brings the performance to a close with another standing ovation.
After a twenty minute interval – during which time the bars buzz with delirium – the third act sees her play out ‘Sky of Honey’, the entire second half of 'Aerial'. It’s so intricately detailed that you get the feeling Bush had always planned to perform these two scenes live.
‘Honey’ is a grandiose daydream moving through a summer's day. Again the scope of her vision is immense – even when the songs don’t enthral the enormous paper planes and human birds do, as we see a wooden mannequin finding himself lost and alone. Bertie plays a major part throughout dressed as a 19th-century artist – and at one point telling the mannequin to "piss off". It ends, as only it could, with Bush gaining wings and flying.
She returns to earth to perform a solo version of ‘Among Angels’ on the piano, before the band return to help close the show with a joyful ‘Cloudbusting’. "I just know that something good is going to happen", she sings as a now even more euphoric crowd jump to their feet.
Then she’s gone. You’re left with the image of a singer who has managed to retain her mystery and surprise. An enigma, the mythic artist who is intensely human. It’s overblown and preposterous and brilliant. All its startling achievements, magical highs and am dram faults – its relentless ambition and human imperfections – make it the only document you could possibly have asked for from such a unique artist. Before the Dawn is everything you would expect but couldn’t imagine.
Photo: Ken McCay © Noble and Brite