Review and photography by Marianne Brits-Strodl
If, like me, you are a 30-something who grew up in South Africa, you almost certainly owned a copy of Bush’s ’94 album ‘Sixteen Stone’. You were also most likely a teenage girl with a crush on frontman Gavin Rossdale, or a teenage boy who had to lie about owning said album because you could NEVER listen to both Nirvana AND Bush. So, with Bush tracks dominating the soundtrack of my rebellious and tortured youth (my youth was neither rebellious nor tortured, but it makes me sound cooler than I am), it was with much excitement, and slight trepidation, that I made my way to o2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire on Tuesday evening, to see the band return to the stage after a couple of year’s absence from touring, with a headline UK show, and a new album to boot.
With the original line-up being a four-piece British band – Wikipedia says their name comes from Shepherd’s Bush in London, where they used to live – I had to remind myself that, while Bush were huge in the US, they were never as big in the UK. The new incarnation of Bush consists of two original members, Gavin Rossdale (vocals/guitar) and Robin Goodridge (drums), with Chris Traynor (guitar) and Corey Britz (bass). Their seventh studio album, ‘Black and White Rainbows’, which was released on 10th March 2017, had been receiving a mix of average reviews, hence my trepidation; I arrived at the gig, hoping against hope they hadn’t reached their sell-buy date, to burst my nostalgic bubble.
The medium-sized venue quickly became jam-packed, with audience members running the gamut of ages. Some were clearly still in nappies when ‘Sixteen Stone’ was released, but most had probably been angsty teens back in the 90s, and I caught myself wondering if they had turned out to be the people they had wanted to be then … The die-hard fans swarmed the front of the stage early, and whilst waiting for the show to start, Sir Tom Jones caused quite a stir with his entry, taking a seat on the first-level balcony.
Bush took to the stage fashionably late, opening with a track from ‘Sixteen Stone’ called ‘Everything Zen’. It was obvious with the first three songs that they were nervous; it felt very rehearsed, as though they were trying too hard to prove they still had it.
Fortunately, after five or six songs, they started feeding off the crowd’s energy, things fell into place, and the rest of the show was the Bush I had been hoping to see. Rossdale, dressed casually in grey T-shirt, black jeans, and trainers was physically in top form, displaying the steadfast energy and intensity on stage of the 25-year-old version of himself. Much to the delight of the screaming females in the front row, at one point, he got VERY up-close and personal, singing into a cordless mic. Bass and drum-heavy tracks continuously hammered the audience, with a few slower ballads like ‘Lost in You’ from the new album slowing the pace in between. They played 15 songs, and 4 encored with older work dominating. Of the three tracks they played from their new album, the most memorable for me was ‘Mad Love’. The energy of the crowd and band continued to grow as the show progressed and the climax saw Rossdale surfing the second balcony, belting out ‘Little Things’.
Highlights for me personally were ‘Swallowed’, ‘The Chemicals Between Us’, and ‘Glycerine’. I was in that nostalgic bubble. I could have stayed in there for a while longer, but was jerked back to reality with the thought of having to get up early for work in the morning.
I can understand how there are mixed reviews on this new album, and that some Bush fans will feel this is too far removed from the post-grunge sound we knew and loved. But I believe this new work is aimed more at the current commercial market and I must admit, probably more of a guilty pleasure than something you outright admit you’re listening to. As far as live performances go, I walked away from this one feeling that the boys can be proud of their hometown show, and I hope they will stick around for a bit longer this time.
The Chemicals Between Us
The Sound of Winter
Sky Turns Day Glo
The People That We Love
Lost in You
The Only Way Out
The One I Love