Live: Bush @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire
You’d be forgiven for thinking 1990’s rock outfit Bush were an American band, given both their sound and enduring success across the pond. Their 1994 debut studio record Sixteen Stone was certified 6x Platinum in the U.S., it’s follow-up peaked at #1 in the U.S. album charts and many of their singles hit #1 on the U.S. Alt. Rock charts for a decade.
But Bush are, in fact, a British band. So much so that they’re named after the area in which tonight’s gig takes place – Shepherd’s Bush! The original line-up of frontman Gavin Rossdale, drummer Robin Goodridge, guitarist Nigel Pulsford and bassist Dave Parsons became Bush in the early nineties while living in the West London neighbourhood but never really found success in their homeland, their sound always more reminiscent of groups found on the American rock charts at a time Grunge had peaked.
They quietly disbanded following 2001 album Golden State, which failed to find the success of their previous releases, with Rossdale firing up new band Institute and pursuing a solo career before branching out into acting, featuring in Keanu Reeves film Constantine and Ben Stiller hit Zoolander amongst others.
Reforming in 2010 with Americans Chris Traynor and Corey Britz replacing Pulsford and Parsons respectively, the four-piece return once again in 2017 with their seventh studio album (third post-reforming), Black And White Rainbows. Billed as Bush with Gavin Rossdale this side of the pond, this speaks more to Rossdale’s increased fame in the UK following his involvement with reality TV show The Voice.
And it was Sir Tom Jones, one of Rossdale’s The Voice colleagues, that got the first cheer of the night, the 76-year-old Welshman taking his seat on a balcony shortly before the band appeared and waving to the cheering crowd as he settled in for the night.
Kicking off proceedings with the first of seven songs form the band’s debut – 1994 record Sixteen Stone – Rossdale and co opened up the night with their first single Everything Zen, the 51-year-old frontman appearing in a metallic shell jacket, behind a purple Fender Jazzmaster, ensuring he moved about the West London stage as the 2,000 strong crowd sang back every word, Traynor’s delicious guitar taking it’s turn to shine, while Britz’ stomping bassline presided, all in front of a giant screen backdrop displaying silhouettes of parading women and psychedelic patterns.
“Thanks for coming out!” Rossdale said to his audience before the band tore into a one-two punch from hit 1999 record The Science Of Things, Prizefighter quickly followed up with my personal introduction to the band: single The Chemicals Between Us, the electronica-infused rock hit sounding as fresh as it did 18 years ago while Rossdale’s shell jacket was abandoned along the way, the frontman easily looking to have shed 20 of his 51 years bounding about the stage with more gusto than Chris Martin.
Razorblade Suitcase single Greedy Fly was up next, Rossdale getting up close and personal with those in the front row, the spotlight operators struggling to keep him in view as a giant computer-generated fly adorned the screen backdrop.
The first airing of new material came by way of Black And White Rainbows single Mad Love, previously played live by the group this past weekend on The Voice, the new track definitely demonstrating an evolution in Bush’s sound, the heavy and messy rock sound supplanted with radio-friendly pop-rock. Man On The Run cut The Gift followed ahead of a first outing for new album track Sky Turns Day Glo, introduced by Rossdale with some words about working on the new record before having the opportunity to work on The Voice, the frontman swaying his arms to entice the crowd to sway along as the screen backdrop switched, displaying flickering flames.
Sixteen Stone hit Monkey had the London-native frontman ditch his guitar to make the most of leaping about the stage as well as reaching down to the fans pressed up against the barrier, the raw rock energy oozing through as Rossdale’s infectious pogoing spread like fire across the standing crowd and even had Sir Tom Jones nodding along.
The sole cut from fifth record Golden State, The People That We Love, was up next, Rossdale continuing sans guitar for the 2001 single, eventually getting fed up with the relatively static and, where possible, seated London crowd yelling: “London, what happened to you? Get on your feet! Put your hands in the air!”, a request that was largely ignored by those in the three seated tiers of the West London theatre as the frontman continued bouncing and spinning on stage before dramatically collapsing to the floor.
The group’s highest charting single in the UK – Swallowed – was up next, the crowd immediately erupting in recognition at Rossdale’s opening guitar riff and continuing to drown out the frontman’s vocals for the song’s duration, one of their most enduring hits opening up the crowd to more new material, this time by way of second Black And White Rainbows single Lost in You.
Sixteen Stone cut Alien was followed by Man On The Run single The Only Way Out before the main set was rounded out with the group’s second single Little Things, Rossdale finally getting the crowd moving to their potential by ploughing his way into the centre of the standing crowd to sing the some of the song while moshing along with his audience before making his way up to the second tier, singing along with fans while standing precariously on the balcony edge, the seated sections quickly rising to their feet in unison.
Following a brief departure from the stage, the boys returned for a few more, kicking off the four-song encore with Sixteen Stone single Machinehead, the crowd chanting opening lyrics “breathe in, breathe out” long before Rossdale. A heavy rendition of R.E.M.’s first hit single The One I Love followed, many in the crowd not well-versed in Bush’s catalogue finally getting the opportunity to sing along. Goodridge, Traynor and Britz then departed the stage once more, leaving Rossdale behind an electric guitar for a soulful solo rendition of 1995 hit single Glycerine, the frontman addressing his audience beforehand: “We’re happy to be here and happy to have the opportunity to play for you all”. The night was closed out by the band re-joining Rossdale for another Sixteen Stone single, Comedown, the frontman handing over vocal duties to the crowd as the song rounded out.
While it’s easy to dismiss Bush in the UK as either “never heard of ‘em” or a nostalgia act, there’s something to be said both about their impressive, extensive back catalogue of U.S. hits as well as the refreshingly different direction seemingly being taken with Black And White Rainbows. It would be great to see more of these guys in the UK and Europe but it’s their mainstay of the U.S. that beckons.
Bush head out on an extensive 24-date U.S. tour next, kicking off at The Gas Monkey Live in Dallas on 4th May and closing out on the outdoor Busch II Infield Stage at St. Louis’ Ballpark Village.
Photos and live review of Bush @ The Shepherd’s Bush Empire by Kalpesh on 14th March 2017.
Kalpesh has more music photography up on his flickr stream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingforkate