With her 1990 tour, documented on the video Madonna: Blonde Ambition, dance diva Madonna hit her stride as a performer and forever turned pop concerts into theatrical spectacles. More than a decade earlier, however, cult-favorite British performer Kate Bush had beaten her to the punch. A precocious 21-year-old with two U.K. hit albums under her belt, the idiosyncratic Bush staged her first and only concert tour in 1979. The Tour of Life showcased the fresh-faced artist in all her fearless glory, mixing modern dance, stylized visuals, and an idiosyncratic stage presence into a compelling whole unlike any rock concert before. Her approach shifts to fit the mood of each song: sitting quietly at her piano for the delicately sensual "Feel It"; staging an elaborately symbolic song-and-dance number for the cautionary "James and the Cold Gun"; and gyrating wildly to her own pre-recorded vocals on the macabre, art-damaged "Hammer Horror." Except for this one departure from live vocals, Bush sings and dances simultaneously with the assistance of a then-novel headset mike, which was reportedly jury-rigged from a bent coat hanger. Backed by many of the musicians who helped fashion her gossamer early albums, she is joined on-stage by a troupe of additional dancers and singers. Director Keith "Keef" MacMillan translates the show's dynamic visual sensibility to the screen with a nice mixture of close-ups, full-stage shots, and accents. Unfortunately, he can't resist using the same superimpositions and other gimmicks he employed on many of the artist's early videos (which are collected separately on 1986's Kate Bush: The Whole Story). Despite such visual anachronisms, Kate Bush: Live at the Hammersmith Odeon is both a compelling document of a brilliant career in progress and a study in the compatibility of personal vision and broad pop appeal. Echoes of Bush's quirky theatrics can be found on the work of performers as diverse as Björk, PJ Harvey, and the aforementioned Madonna.
by Brian J. Dillard review