1979: Looking Backwards & Forwards At Kate Bush's 'Tour Of Life'

Thursday, September 4, 2014

In 1979, hot on the heels of a rocket climb to notoriety, Kate Bush embarked on the Tour Of Life, her debut stage spectacle that blended theater, pantomime, interpretative dance, cinematic storytelling, with glam rock flourish. A runway success, the tour was Kate Bush's enigmatic persona exploding all over the place, as she morphed into a ruthless killer, made herself into a human kite, and even rolled around in a egg-shaped womb on stage because well, feminism! Even though the tour carried Bush into a new phase of success and artistic integrity, the sum of its eclectic parts physically and mentally drained her to where she never toured again.

Well, that was until this year...

Last week, Bush kicked off her first tour in over 35 years, and it took a lot of 'sure yeah rights' before people collectively spazzed out over its validity. Lots of positive reviews I've read so far about the Before The Dawn show, most gushing about how La Bush has returned to fine form, and is still exhibiting all those theatrical pantomimes and enchanted forest sorceress accouterments she's known for --- and doing it all while barefoot thankyouverymuch. Of course there's some commentary on age and weight because, shock of shocks, 56-year-old mothers aren't supposed to be throwing edgy concert shows after 35 years of stage absence (*eye-roll*), but I'm more focused on the surprising aspect of the show's fresh set-list, as Bush pretty much acts like her first four albums and 1989's The Sensual World never existed (boo!), but does ALL of the conceptual insanity that is the Hounds Of Love's 'The Ninth Wave' segment (bad ass!). All in all, from what I've gathered, the whole damn thing sounds delightful and like the musical adventure Kate Bush fans have been craving three decades for.

Ironically parallel to all of this tour talk, I'm in the midst of getting life from reading Under The Ivy: The Life & Music Of Kate Bush, by music biographer, Graeme Thomson, and its a highly compelling account of Bush and her 40+ year legacy, with detailed assertions about Bush's approach to music (she really considers herself more of a storyteller than a musician, which is apt) and how her upbringing, intuitive thinking, and unique vision have made her one of the finest craftsman of the melodic word (Excuse my fangirling).

In the book as well, the Tour Of Life is given ample dialogue as it explains how the tour was derived, what issues it harbored (a horrible death to one of the crewman put everyone on edge), as well as attempts to crack the mystery of why Bush had such apprehension and almost indifference to touring after the fact, even though she had several opportunities to do so.

Since I live in America, where Bush was never all that appreciated, me ever breathing the same air as Bush in a live setting is a big ol' fat chance, add to that I wasn't even a zygote thought back in '79 when the Tour Of Life took place. While watching a grainy 35-year-old account of the Tour Of Life on YouTube doesn't do the show justice, it's still the best way for me to see Kate Bush's imagination run wild on stage.

Sure, at a glance the performances look hokey and down-right laughable, as some of it resembles the twee mess I did for UIL when I was in my high school drama club, but if you don't look at the date stamp or think too critically and let your mind get some fresh air in it, you can view some truly cornerstone elements that influenced how musicians today turn their albums and songs into visual exhibits for the senses. Right down to the hand-less microphone, which was the first of its kind at the time and can now be seen on any pop star today, Kate Bush brought her songs, and the characters in them, to life on a set that was quite advanced for its time (it raised up and down...oooooh), and displayed a cinematic approach to how the lights were synchronized and how the song's were performed, predicting the way of music videos and how high-end spectacle tours these days have 'themes'.

If Bush had had the budget of a 2014 pop star to tour, who knows how much she would've colored outside the lines, but actually I'm glad Bush didn't have a budget like that, because you don't need a light show or lavish million dollar costume changes to truly feel and witness Kate Bush's vision, because she just reels you into her music, her stories, her expressive voice, like the Aesop of Rock she is. Sometimes all of that stuff, while eye-popping and fun, is smoke and mirrors towards an artist's flaws, warping our vision to see them as superhuman entertainment deities. Bush doesn't need all that stuff, and she knows she's only human and can convey so much.

From looking at pictures of her recent tour, she still has the ingenuity to see that less is definitely best when it comes to how she sculpts and projects her art. She even urges this kind of candor out of her audience as she politely urged concert-goers to not use smartphones or tablets during the Before The Dawn show so she could have full contact with her audience. Bush knows that the intrusion of a glowing phone corrupts the in-the-moment magic that unfolds, because she's someone who never does the same thing twice when she's performing, always evolving, re-inventing and editing she is, and if you blink, you'll miss that comet tailed spark.

The Tour Of Life was enacted in a simpler era that was bubbling with advancement, but it's still a fascinating watch as it showed a young artist coming into her own, proving to the naysayers and panderers that there were layers and textures to her music, that the voice of women and their personal and sexual agency matter, that there was integrity and thought behind her art, not gimmick. I don't expect everyone to love and appreciate the intricacies and intellect of Kate Bush's work as I do. She is an acquired taste, as she is unconventional, not to a fault, but just that her accessibility is something that isn't instant on first listens. Still music is supposed to be an adventure, one that has you stride in another's shoes or takes you right into the nucleus of your personal self, and Bush is one of those artists that takes you there again and again, and its why she's an all-time favorite of mine. Most of all the performances from the Tour Of Life are up on YouTube, and if you take some minutes, it's a fun, nostalgic view, that is out of time, but truly remains ahead of it in so many ways even to this day.


The cerulean blue liquid that is "Moving" is a brilliant opener as Kate lets the limbs loose like a marionette coming to life after a spell is achieved. Its a fitting tribute to one of Bush's dance educators, mime icon Lindsay Kemp, plus who can resist being beckoned into the watery aural abyss by the 'songs' of the humpback whale in the beginning swells?

I've come to learn that "Wow" has been notoriously parodied over the years, and while hilarious done, there is still a lot of fragility and beauty in this song that making fun of it kinda wrecks the sense of humor I usually have. I've always had a fondness for this song, as it unfolds like a paperback mystery, spooky and forewarning, as it creeps along and then explodes with that bursting elastic chorus. Gorgeous. Yes, the half-naked dancers swinging their arms looks straight out of an bad aerobics video, but smother your guffaws and listen to Bush and her peerless voice get their drama queen on.

I'm not keen on gun usage, because of names like Trayvon, Oscar, and Mike, but I have to remember that England doesn't have a hard-on for the steel and bullets like America does (...correct me if I'm wrong, dear readers). Thus, the 'shoot-out' finale of "James & The Cold Gun" is a bit harsh to look at with Millennial eyes, but its a performance, and a gloriously rollicking one at that as it shows Bush in a highly charged femme gone wild moment channeling a rock edge this side of Blondie's Debbie Harry, just with a little more banshee beauty stitched in.

Though the performance itself is 'lost', just listening to the audio of "Egypt" is damn thrilling. The track is from Bush's third album, 1980's Never For Ever, which wouldn't come out until the following year, but this live version is better than the studio version as its not so loaded with Fairlight clap-trap, and actually gives an intimacy to Bush's symbolic word play. This version is crisp and the funkiest Kate has ever sounded thanks to some killer bongos beefing up the background.

"Them Heavy People" is such a great song, it's so plucky and coy. When I first got into Kate Bush it was one of my instant favorites, and it's why whenever I'm trying to get friends hooked onto Kate Bush's music this is one of the songs I play. It's message about allowing influences into your life doesn't terribly translate well on stage, but Kate decked out like Inspector Gadget with some Bob Fosse inspired moves makes for a fun time.

Oh, and last but not least I couldn't forget about the encore of "Wuthering Heights" because well, duh. As Kate Bush began to advance artistically she always had this urge to tweak and fine-tune her debut single (she even re-recorded the vocals for it on The Whole Story compilation back in 1986), but truly, I think tampering with it mars what a fine hour it was back in 1978. For this take, this is the pure '70s incense and macrame Kate Bush, with clear and crystal drop vocals that just soar, and its one of her best performances of her signature hit. As a bonus she brings in the dry ice machine (rock on, dude) to pretty much reenact the song's alluring visual, and the result is nothing short of hypnotic.

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