For music fans starved of live performances over the first year of the pandemic, the return to in-person shows earlier this year was a blessing, a small sense of normalcy amid a still-steady battle with the coronavirus. Despite the many additional challenges thrown up by playing through a pandemic, fans and musicians alike have eagerly reopened shuttered concert venues, creating a heightened sense of excitement after the void of the previous year. In that state, any show experience has the potential for profound catharsis, and performers are well aware of the heightened expectations placed upon them by eager audiences.
If there was one musician whose return to live music would provoke an immediate frenzy, it would be Kate Bush. The reclusive British performer’s last album, 50 Words for Snow, is now a decade old; moreover, Bush only performed live twice in her career, first in 1979 with “The Tour of Life,” and then again in 2014 with “Before the Dawn,” a concert residency at London’s Hammersmith Apollo. Still, if Bush devotees would be hard-pressed to imagine the legend herself performing live again, there is still reason for excitement for Chicago-based fans: Full Bush, a new musical production from Chicago art-rock duo Ohmme and performer Alex Grelle, will soon fill the gap, exploring Bush’s arch theatricality and creating a raucous, emotional performance from her inventive discography.
12/2-12/5, 8:30 PM (doors 8 PM), Constellation, 3111 N. Western, $25 advance, $30 door, 18+, constellation-chicago.com; then 12/10-12/12, Fri-Sun 8 PM, Co-Prosperity Sphere, 3219 S. Morgan, $25 advance, $30 door, 18+, eventbrite.com.
Ohmme, comprised of Macie Stewart and Sima Cunningham, in collaboration with Grelle and director Jesse Morgan Young, first began brainstorming the show about a year ago, when it remained unclear if the performance would happen in-person or as an online-only show. All four have long been fans of Bush’s work, and several of her songs have appeared in Ohmme’s set lists over the last several years. With a chance to bring Bush’s oeuvre to life, first in a four-night run at Constellation from December 2 to 5, followed by three nights at Co-Prosperity Sphere from December 10 to 12, Full Bush is ready to deliver the kind of musical catharsis that music fans have been eagerly embracing throughout 2021.
I recently caught up with Cunningham and Young, discussing Bush’s influence on Ohmme’s music, her visual and theatrical inspiration for Young’s directing, and the pleasure of performing for a captive audience once more.
Annie Howard: Kate Bush’s music has clearly been an influence on Ohmme’s work, including covering songs like “Cloudbusting” during live sets. Why has her work been so important to what you’ve made?
Sima Cunningham: Since the onset of Ohmme, Kate Bush has been a steady influence in our music. I think the deeper we get into our albums, and the more we’re exploring new avenues of performance and wanting to go beyond making just records, we look to Kate Bush as someone who was thorough in stretching the reaches of her creative possibility.
I was introduced to Kate Bush by Macie—she grew up on her dad playing Kate Bush. Macie introduced me to her a couple years ago at the right time in my life. Not everyone listens to Kate Bush, and not everyone falls in love with Kate Bush on their first listen. In some ways, it’s extremely accessible, and in other ways it’s challenging music to listen to, and that balance is what got me. It challenges what you think you’re ready to listen to, but also is very inviting and full of pure joy, but also upends any expectations you might have.
While she’s made countless iconic music videos, Bush has notoriously done few live shows across her career. Was that a challenge in how you sought to interpret her work for a live audience?
Jesse Morgan Young: I didn’t feel challenged by Kate Bush being somebody who doesn’t perform live that often, because so many of her videos are so theatrical, and the language of movement that she uses is so beautiful, and it makes sense to re-create in physical space. She’s so visually compelling that as I was working through the show, there were moments when I realized that I’d used an image from one of her music videos in some previous show I’d directed, and just realized it now. She’s just such a wealth of material to work with, and we’re just swimming through it.
I also think one of the tasks that I’ve tried to accomplish is making sure that there’s space for Kate Bush and Ohmme and Alex to all be feeding into each other. It’s less about being like, “How do we re-create this Kate Bush moment,” although there is some of that in the show, but it’s more like, “How do we all go into the material together?”
Cunningham: That also rings true with the band that we put together for the show. For the performance, we’re not necessarily trying to re-create every single note on a Kate Bush song, but we’re trying to do our own approach, maybe more of a postrock interpretation of Kate Bush. Sometimes when I listen to her, I’m so distracted by everything that’s going on. Things are moving in so many different directions, and it dazzles you in a way that makes it hard to pay attention to how good the songs are. She is such a heartfelt songwriter, and I found myself falling even more in love with her in the process of pulling some of those songs apart, stripping them back, and revealing the song at the center of the magnificent, dazzling masterpiece.
With live music upended for more than a year, putting together Full Bush feels like the kind of big, spectacular performance that we’re once more readjusting to. What does it mean to bring this to live, packed crowds over the next two weeks?
Cunningham: I feel so grateful that we’re doing this show when and how we are. When we first started talking in earnest about Full Bush, it was in a time when we weren’t sure if it would be another livestream performance. But I don’t think any of us really wanted to produce another online performance—we all wanted to bring Kate Bush to people live. We want people to have the feeling of this music, and this multidimensional Kate Bush, Ohmme, and Alex Grelle experience. It feels great to be doing this big fuck-all show, and I think people just want a lot, they want to be filled with the human experience right now. My hope is that Full Bush can help overflow that cup a little bit.