(Darkness ) Before the dawn
Live Review from Youth from Killing Joke and legendary producer
Ok, let’s be clear …Expectations were high …the first “Live”performance for decades, a conceptual show combining music, theatre, dance …. Very very ambitious, incredibly hard to pull off. I was expecting a lot but was prepared to be a little disappointed….As soon as I entered this legendary theatre and saw the stage, I sensed that something was about to go off. This, the very same stage Bowie killed Ziggy on and countless other legends have done their best ever gigs…. No pressure then.
Kate is here tonight, and whatever my preconceptions were, I will soon witness with my own eyes, the restoration of her Dionysian sovereignty, as Queen of the underworld and confirm her place in the pantheon of legends who smashed the Apollo.
In command of a small army of technicians, carpenters, artists of every description and with a finely tuned band of seasoned sessioners, including heavyweights, John Giblin on bass (Reminded me of Danny Thompson, jazz prog supremo, lots of fretless, thankfully played with slide and noodling restraint on 11) and Miles Davis luminary, Omar Hakim on drums, anchoring the whole circus with a firm and steady hand on the groove. A band of this caliber can often, ironically become complacent, cumbersome and at worst intellectual bland cabaret.
Yet Kate confidently and fearlessly stormed her band in a fearless battle charge towards a crowning triumphant set. From the off she was flying . Admittedly we had incredible seats, 6 rows from the front, right in the middle. I had two girls in their 30’s next to me, apoplectic with excitement, it was contagious, the atmosphere tangibly electric, like the just before a thunder storm.
Opening with Lily was a clue …This song lyrically is an explicit magical ceremony, a literal invocation/initiation, in the style of the Rosicurician Orders, a la the Golden Dawn school of the western magical tradition. “Gabriel is before me, Raphael behind me ….. In the circle of fire”.
This is key to understanding Kate. She has her own cult, her own mystery school tradition. Her unique strand of Shivaism, Dionysian and Druid philosophy, loosely wrapped up in a song and dance tradition. It’s part magical realism, overt nature spirituality and art house ….( Hard to pull off in cynical, post modern narcissistic Britain)
She not only pulled that rabbit out of that hat but also managed to convert each and every one of us to her own personal church of the big sky….a church whose priests are owls, ravens, trees and clouds.
When asked once who her favourite singers were, she replied “Nightingale, Blackbird and Thrush” There is a barrenness in religions today, whether in Christianity, Islam or false prophet new age gurus, humanity is rudderless, bedazzled by materialism. Kate’s communion with nature is the antidote, it is a call to joy, a celebration of the sublime ….it’s about the intoxication of love and the ecstasy that follows… is where wisdom lies, hidden deep within its mystical and poetic roots.
Kate’s “Religion” is the tiny spark of light that defeats the dark forces that seek dominion over the natural world, it’s tooth and claw and blood on the floor …She exemplifies English pagan beauty. A dark timelessness and stillness surrounds her wild abandonment, whilst her voice charges at you like Boudicca returned, riding a golden chariot of weird melody, harmony and bitter dissonance.
Shape shifting her artistry, she played with archetypes. She can access our primordial memory, when we were fish and birds. Her voice, a vehicle for multiple characters. She invokes the triple goddess. Athena, virginal, sensual innocence. Aphrodite, loaded with sexual power or Nimue, motherly, nurturing and “oh so tender ” and finally the Hag, Raven seer.Hecate, Queen of the witches, the dark half of the moon.Terrifying Kali the Crone or Macha in a frenzy, unleashing the furies upon us. All this choreographed into one ritualised, magical, shock and awe vision of an imagined future, all in one performance…..Very elemental, light and shade, earth and fire.
And as a statement of intent of what was to follow…mind blowing. Next up was a big hit, Hounds of love, Bang, Wallop and were off! There’s a delirious abandon and primal sexual thrust to her voice tonight. “Here I go ….” She’s the hunter with her dogs “Take my shoes off and throw them in the lake” Chasing down her prey. Is it us that shes commanding to jump into the abyss? though with a slight inflection it’s suddenly her being chased. She wants blood ..,,I notice my heart is racing ….. Opening her set with possibly her greatest song ? Crazy confidence, weirdly reminding me of James Brown, as he was famous for opening his sets with his current or biggest hit. This takes bravery and a ton of attitude, as most bands work their way up to the “hit” as part of the big finale. This was a promising start and then, very quickly all doubts vanished as she proceeded to pummel me to the ground with an incredible and outstanding dynamic performance, combining superb emotional vulnerability and leaping effortlessly to heroic feats of vocal power and strength, for almost 3 hours!.
As the set progresses, she takes us deeper into the forrest of dreams. With your senses surrounded and stimulated like this it’s easy to let go and lose yourself to it….like homeopathic LSD, it’s sublime psychedelia.
Kate’s vocals were so on point, not one note was out ….even her trademark intimate breathy voice, which is super tricky for singers to pull off in the studio, let alone “live”. She pulled it off effortlessly.Incredible range.One of the best vocal performances I have ever born witness too. Breathtaking, as if she was just singing to me …. Shamanic, pagan, transcendentally pyschedelic ….Looking me straight in the eye.
….Had me welling up on Running up that hill, the lyrics really cut through, I’ve heard this hundreds of times but never like tonight , never had it sounded so powerful or so moving .
The visuals and design, jaw dropping .This must have been a huge emotional roller coaster, the Big Dipper for Kate, to realise her vision so fully, after 30 yrs waiting patiently in the wings …. …
Tender and brutal, sophisticated smart and super sexy …Art for all. Blake visionary, Blade runner dreamscape or just neo-renaissance pagan art ritual. Really the best celebration of the equinox you could wish for.
The sound quality was superb, quadraphonic sound system, with the special effects spinning around 360 degrees … Very Pink Floyd, which comes as no surprise to find Jon Carrin, formerly from the live touring Pink Floyd band playing keyboards. The light show and fx (Apocalypse now helicopters meets Lord of the rings fellowship )itself reminded me very much of Pink Floyd and Kraftwerk, with the obsessive care and attention to minutei detail, like the floating bits of paper with poetry/lyrics written in Tennyson script to the lavish detailed program. I appreciated it, as did the rapturous audience around me .
The band and backing singers were put though their paces, as they had to double up as actors and do clothes changes, at times it was very opera (I only wish more opera was this good ) although generally opera productions really do out do “epic” rock and roll on the big stage design front, yet Kate upped the stakes again and the design was outstanding … At times it was very dark, very prog, heavy and suffocating. A dystopian frenzy with a Killing Joke intensity and occasionally and surprisingly fluffy, even “Orb ” like with spiralling arpeggios and swirling cinematic ambience as well as lots spoken word elements flying around in holographic quad. ( I could be biased here though ) .
Occasionally it did slip into “West end musical”and music hall tradition. This though was actually quite touching as these were the sections featuring her son Bertie, who we all have to thank, as Kate wouldn’t have done this without him, ( I would even speculate that this is one large elaborate showcase for the charismatic Bertie by her loving mum) But even with such overt nepotism, this is charmed by Kate’s tangible glee and proud delight at her sons performance and endears us to her heartwarming human touch even more .
Throughout though was Kate’s unique vision, clearly realised and total commitment to the work at hand and pulled off with a very authentic voice, which veered a few potential “spinal tap” moments into a absolute masterpiece.
Combining magic, illusion, mime, puppetry, film …to name just a few. she puts everything she’s got into it.The layers of depth within the production is actually mind boggling, The last time such an epic single vision was realised like this, was probably Chaplin.
Kate is a once in a generation, like Blake, Lorca, Tennyson. She can master the avant garde within a pop dynamic, consistently delivering over decades. Mash up dozens of polarising, opposing genres of influences, into a single focus with clarity and without compromise (Thats genius).
Intellectual, super serious, yet still very silly and lots of fun. She’s actually read Ulysses ..all the way to the end !
I felt very lucky, privileged to be able to bear witness to her mythical vision made manifest, her great masterpiece.
This was not a greatest hits show and at times it was challenging and difficult and I salute her bravery and artistry for this.Her choice and her direction of the band, team and crew actually resulted in some of the songs sounding even better than the records. Nothing short of a revelation, a master class in how to do it.
Kate was clearly moved by the ecstatic response and modestly thanked the audience and continually commended the crew and performers. The finale was Cloudbusting, which she turned into a crowd singalong anthem, worthy enough to compete with Blake ‘s Jerusalem. I could see her Headlining Glasto with this next year. It would have been great to hear “The big sky” but I was so carried away, I didn’t notice that she didn’t do it and I played on the record, that’s how carried away I was.
The vibe was amazing, magic in the air, ” Thunder in our hearts” …maybe the equinox helped but I couldn’t imagine anything but rapture, even from the most hardened cynic, experiencing this performance.
As we left I felt like i had just been slapped with a wet kipper, a different person than the one who entered three hours before.
Like taking a pill … Rushes… The audience staggered out like stunned mullets and floated off into the brisk, river misty Hammersmith night, the world ever so slightly changed.