Kate Bush makes live return: one part gig, two parts theatre

Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 00.34.29Kate Bush played her first live show in over 35 years tonight (August 26). The legendary singer-songwriter began her 22-night Before the Dawn residency at London's Hammersmith Apollo with a three-hour set that delighted fans who had probably never expected to see her on stage again. Bush, 56, started the night at 7.45pm prompt, trotting on stage flanked by a seven-piece band and five-strong chorus of backing singers. Clad in floaty black fabric, with long dark hair flowing down her back, she looked how you'd hope Kate Bush would look in 2014 - like a nice, slightly bohemian art teacher. For the first seven songs, Before the Dawn felt like an ordinary rock gig - albeit an ordinary rock gig performed by a woman who has kept a lower profile than Lord Lucan for the last two decades. Renditions of Bush's classic mid-80s singles Running Up That Hill and Hounds of Love went down especially well with a crowd that greeted the singer with enormous warmth, while a riveting version of Bush's 2005 comeback hit King of the Mountain proved to be another early highlight. Bush's voice remains strong, if huskier than it once was, and rather more limited in its upper register, and her between-song patter was filled with quiet English charm. At this point, Before the Dawn transformed into a full-scale theatrical experience, as Bush played The Ninth Wave - the second half of her best album, 1985's Hounds of Love, and a song suite about a woman who finds herself alone on the water for a night - in full. Bush and her creative team brought this unsettling scenario to life spectacularly - with video projections, dancers dressed in fish heads, a lighting rig that mimicked a helicopter, swathes of undulating fabric that covered the floor space to represent water, and even a life-size recreation of a living room suspended above the stage. Bush sang the entire song suite in character, and when the curtain went down to close the first half of the show, the crowd responded with rapturous - and well-earned - applause. After a 20-minute interval, Bush brought another song suite from her back catalogue to life: A Sky of Honey, the second half of her 2005 album Aerial. Once again, the staging was stunning: video projections showed birds in flight; a giant painting occupied a corner of the stage; and a master puppeteer patrolled the stage with a cute wooden mannequin. Musically, this sequence was technically impressive and frequently beautiful, too, but A Sky of Honey has a less compelling narrative than The Ninth Wave - it's basically about a lovely summer's day spent outdoors in the sun - so this portion of the show was a smidge less mesmerising than what had come before it. Bush rounded off her comeback gig with a beautiful version of Among Angels, a song from her most recent album, 2011's 50 Words for Snow, which she performed alone at the piano. Her band and backing singers then returned for a jubilant rendition of another classic mid-80s single, Cloudbusting, before Bush exited to a standing ovation. Before the Dawn is unlike any other live show in recent memory: it's one part rock gig, two parts theatre - and, because of the shock of seeing Bush on stage again, completely surreal. Several of her best-known songs are absent from the set list - Wuthering Heights, This Woman's Work and Babooshka among them - but nobody who has paid between £55 and £135 to be there will leave feeling short-changed. Before the Dawn isn't flawless, but it is singular, ambitious and frequently thrilling. At its best, it might also be that elusive thing: actual Artpop. Act 1: Lily Hounds of Love Joanni Top of the City Never Be Mine Running up that Hill King of the Mountain Ninth Wave And Dream of Sheep Under Ice Wake Up Waking The Witch Watching You Without Me Little Light Jig of Life Hello Earth The Morning Fog Sky of Honey Prelude Prologue An Architect’s Dream The Painter’s Link Sunset Aerial Tal Somewhere In Between Tawny Moon Nocturn Aerial Encore Among Angels Cloudbusting