Kate Bush: Live At Hammersmith Odeon 1979

Some surprising news about British singer-songwriter Kate Bush was recently announced: Ms. Bush will be performing a series of 15 concerts, titled Before The Dawn, at London’s Hammersmith Apollo in August and September of this year. Incredibly, this will be Bush’s first time performing full concerts in 35 years. She only went on one proper tour in 1979, the year after her debut album was released, when she played a number of shows in the U.K. and on the European mainland. She has occasionally made guest appearances at various events during the years since, but she has avoided performing full concerts of her own. Many people have speculated on possible reasons for her decades-long absence from live performances; Bush herself has said that the 1979 tour had proven to be exhausting, and that her family life became more important to her.

Because of the surprising length of her stage absence, the recording of one of her 1979 shows is even more vital than I realized. On May 13th of that year, the then-20-year-old singer performed at the same London venue – known at the time as the Hammersmith Odeon – at the end of the tour. Recordings from that concert have been released in both audio and visual media, but all of those releases – at least the authorized ones – are currently out of print.

The first time any part of this concert was released was in 1979 on a four-song EP titled On Stage. Three of the four selections were songs that originally appeared on her 1978 debut album The Kick Inside; the other (“Don’t Push Your Foot On The Heartbrake”) was from her sophomore album Lionheart. On all four of these tracks, Bush comes across as a fine live performer in good voice. The intense six-minute rendition of “James And The Cold Gun” – which has quite a different feeling than the studio version – is the standout track; the EP is also notable for its inclusion of “L’Amour Looks Something Like You”, which is curiously absent from the “full-length” film of the concert. (Note: On Stage was never released in the United States. In the different countries in which the EP was released, it was either issued as a 12-inch 45-rpm single, a 7-inch 33-rpm single, or a set of two 7-inch 45-rpm singles).

The 53-minute film of the concert has since been released on home video at least three times. The first time was in 1981 on VHS and Laserdisc formats; the second time was in 1994, with a CD of the concert packaged together with the VHS tape; and the third time was in 2012 as an unauthorized European DVD. The set's twelve songs were drawn almost entirely from the first two albums, except for “Violin”, which would later be released on the third. The film reveals that the show was heavy on visuals and stage theatrics, with Ms. Bush constantly changing costumes and demonstrating her odd dance moves and facial expressions. Her bewitching vocals sound wonderful throughout, and the piano-based art-pop songs retain most of their aura. Her performances of “Violin” and “James And The Cold Gun” are particularly dynamic; the latter track runs at least two minutes longer here than it does on the On Stage EP. It must be said that the sound is too clean to be true on some tracks, especially considering how smoothly the woman sings while doing some of those dance moves. Indeed, I hardly saw Kate’s mouth move during “Hammer Horror” (and was her dance partner wearing a Spider-Man mask during that number?). Whatever the case may have been, Ms. Bush certainly put on an elaborately entertaining stage show, and it will be interesting to see what she will bring to the stage when she returns to the same venue this year.

Note: An unofficial CD of the concert was released in the Netherlands in 2012 on the Immortal label, catalogue number IMA 105001.

Kate Bush - On Stage

Kate Bush “On Stage” EP (EMI MIEP 2991) 1979

Track Listing:

1. Them Heavy People
2. Don’t Push Your Foot On The Heartbrake
3. James And The Cold Gun
4. L’Amour Looks Something Like You

Kate Bush - Live at Hammersmith Odeon

Kate Bush “Live At Hammersmith Odeon” (EMI 7243 8 30065 2 6) 1994

Track Listing:

1. Moving
2. Them Heavy People
3. Violin
4. Strange Phenomena
5. Hammer Horror
6. Don’t Push Your Foot On The Heartbrake
7. Wow
8. Feel It
9. Kite
10. James And The Cold Gun
11. Oh England My Lionheart
12. Wuthering Heights

The Live At Hammersmith Odeon CD was available only as part of a VHS package by Picture Music International, catalogue number SAV 4913063.