Last night saw me in Ouseburn again, an increasingly cool part of town that, while dominated by student accommodation, is also host to some great venues, including Ernest, The Biscuit Factory (home, remember, of the Best Grilled Cheese Sandwich I have ever had). Our destination was Cobalt Studios, a lovely laid back venue that hosts a series of cultural events, and which tonight was the location for Kate Bush Night.
I loved the vibe immediately: friendly staff, dressed for the evening in an array of strappy dresses and / or flouncy sleeves (the men included – there were several guys rocking frocks in a crowd where efforts to dress up ranged from minimal to spectacular). Neither drinks nor tickets were expensive, and though the place could do with more toilets – couldn’t everywhere – they are gender neutral single stalls, which at least means the blokes are stuck in the same (very friendly) queue rather than being able to waltz past a line of waiting ladies, and also adds to the inclusive vibe. Kitchsy decor struck just the right note, with benches, comfy chairs and sofas scattered around. And while most people might not notice, the fact that the venue is on the ground floor, with clearly visible, easily accessible exits and is small enough that even when busy it doesn’t feel overwhelming made me more comfortable. I spent too much of my youth in firetrap basements or claustrophobic clubs to want to revisit that experience now, and I like places that you know you can get out of quickly if you or one of your party is prone to anxiety and occasionally needs a fast escape.
A roster of local bands before the main attraction did make the evening a long one – though admittedly that is likely just me, who nearly always wishes everything was over five minutes after it starts – the mood was buoyant, and the bands were good. But my energy was definitely starting to wane a bit when the headliners came on – who then proceeded to utterly blow me away.
It’s been argued before that in some ways tribute bands can give you a more authentic experience of the artist you love than the artist themselves: you are, after all, guaranteed to get all the hits, rather than be subjected to the dreaded ‘and here’s something you haven’t heard before from our new album’ syndrome, and are less at the mercy of the vagaries of an artistic temperament. There is also less of a barrier between performer and audience: after all, you are all there for the same reason, the love of the music that is being performed. (When I saw Absolute Bowie in Brighton, it was in the company of someone who had seen the man himself in concert and who unhesitatingly proclaimed this a better gig.)
It also gives you access to a time machine of sorts – especially important when your beloved star is a chameleon whose look and style is constantly evolving. Kate Bush is 60: magnificent as she is, she’s likely not going to be wanting to don the same costumes and do the same moves she did when she was 20, just as the Bowie of later tours had abandoned his jumpsuits and capes. Tribute bands allow us to relive those moments in an artist’s history that are crystallised in our minds – even if it’s only from a Top of The Pops appearance glimpsed in our parents’ living room – in a way that is hardly ever possible with the actual person.
And Baby Bushka nailed it. An eight-strong, all-female troupe of incredible talent and bags of charisma and cool, this American band split lead duties between them, each tackling the songs most suited to their persona, and doing so with energy and aplomb. The setlist was tackled with plenty of artistic interpretation and humour, but never aimed at either Ms Bush or her fans, rather marvelling at the fact that even her most outre moments were touched with a sort of genius. Even I – the woman who spends even her favourite gigs mentally working through a checklist of ticked-off hits so I can gauge how much longer I have to stand and how early I can go home – would have been happy to watch more of them, and was on my feet roaring with the rest of a delighted crowd.
They are touring the UK at the minute – and funding the whole process themselves – so if you get a chance, go see them (check out their Facebook page for details). I promise you, you won’t be disappointed.