"It's been a real adventure so far," smiled Kate Bush, after four songs of her first full live show in 35 years, "and it's only just begun."
Bush was talking in general terms about her comeback, with last night's Before the Dawn show at London's Eventim Apollo being the first of 22 she will play at the venue over the coming weeks. But she could also have been referring to the night's set list, which saw her shun many of her biggest hits in an attempt to put on the theatrical show to end all theatrical shows. Before the night was over, the production would feature abduction by fish people, a simulated helicopter air-sea rescue and many other things you wouldn't normally see at a Tuesday night rock gig.
Still, things began relatively conventionally, with Bush trooping on barefoot at the head of a procession of backing singers, opening with "Lily" from 1993's The Red Shoes. If she was nervous after so long away from the stage, she didn't show it.
"Where have you been?" she enquired politely, in the manner of an eccentric aunt welcoming some long-lost family members in for tea. "It's so good to see you all."
Accompanied by regular shouts of "We love you Kate!" (even from the press section), the singer proceeded straight-ahead for six songs, including rapturously-received versions of "Hounds of Love" and "Running up That Hill," her voice as crystal clear and emotive as ever. Not that it really mattered: She received a standing ovation after each song and a round of applause every time she so much as swayed in time with the music, everyone complying with her pre-show request to not take photos.
But, just when it appeared music's last great enigma might defy the speculation about flotation tanks and interpretative mime, ignore the all-singing/all-dancing/all-everything-ing precedent set by her only previous tour (1979's The Tour of Life) and just play a Best Of set, everything changed. After a pounding version of "King of the Mountain," taken from 2005's Aerial, lightning flashed and confetti cannons exploded – a commonplace big show move, sure, but the confetti doesn't usually come printed with lines from Tennyson's "Idylls of the King."
And it doesn't usually precede a performance of an intricate song cycle, in this case "The Ninth Wave," the second half of her 1985 album, Hounds of Love. This concept piece about a woman lost at sea was brought to life in stunning fashion, featuring everything from billowing sheets to represent the ocean to a "floating" living room set featuring a family debating sausages and soccer. The "fish people" – dancers dressed in fish skeleton costumes – carried Bush off stage and into the crowd at one point while, at another, a mobile lighting rig became a makeshift helicopter, lurching over the crowd as searchlights glared and the sound of rotor blades filled the air.
That was perhaps the only production trick that could not have been featured at Bush's last show, at the same venue (then known as Hammersmith Odeon) in May of 1979. Everything else was representative of a less mechanical approach to special effects, the sort that might once have featured in Pink Floyd shows (David Gilmour, who first discovered Bush, was in attendance along with the likes of Lily Allen and actress Gemma Arterton).
After an interval, Bush returned to perform another song cycle, the more esoteric "A Sky of Honey," found on the second half of Aerial. This featured Bush's son, Bertie McIntosh – without whom, she proclaimed, "there's no way this would ever have happened" – in a prominent role. There was also strange wooden puppetry, huge doors and paintings descending from the ceiling. At the forceful finale, Bush sprouted wings to hover briefly a few feet off the stage.
That move drew gasps from the crowd of long-term fans, at hysteria-point throughout, even though pop stars like Taylor Swift and Katy Perry have made such moves almost commonplace. Eventually, Bush returned alone at the piano to thank everyone for "such a wonderful, warm and positive response," and give simpler performances of two final songs: "Among Angels," from 2011's 50 Words for Snow, and a final, joyous full-band rendition of "Cloudbusting."
The crowd continued to holler for more even a good five minutes after the house lights had come on, only dispersing once technicians began to dismantle the set. When they did eventually leave, they were greeted by dozens of TV and radio crews from around the world, hungry for people's verdict.
And no wonder: Part-West End show and part-performance art, by turns bewitching and bewildering, but never once boring, the new adventures of Kate Bush promise to be every bit as enthralling as the old ones.
"Hounds of Love"
"Top of the City"
"Running up That Hill (A Deal With God)"
"King of the Mountain"
The Ninth Wave
"And Dream of Sheep"
"Waking the Witch"
"Watching You Without Me"
"Jig of Life"
"The Morning Fog"
A Sky of Honey
"An Architect's Dream"
"The Painter's Link"
"Somewhere in Between"