Thursday, January 14
Kate Tempest is a British poet, playwright, storyteller, rapper and force of nature. She is all at once Linton Kwesi Johnson, Ani DiFranco and Bob Dylan – and as likely to have been deeply influenced by all of them, or to have sprung up on her own, loving words and the delivery of them in entirely her own way.
Her debut album, Everybody Down, was released in 2014 and the Mercury Prize-nominated set of poems and raps and songs is the touchstone here, the foundation for and of this show. She’s flanked on the stage by the simple setup of electronic drums and keyboards, and murky musical worlds that embrace and then rush past hip-hop, trance, grime, reggae and rock create the backdrop for the Tempestuous word-rush. If a times the stories – for there’s a narrative involving characters across Everybody Down – feel slightly lost as the words blur inside and around the music there’s nothing lost in the passion and feel and flow of the performance.
It’s slightly frustrating to not be able to hear each and every word, since this is a show primarily about words, but when we want The Truth we can usually feel it. And then we definitely get to hear it when Tempest breaks away from the band to deliver her lyrics as slam-poetry, a capellas that chew down hard on polemic spitting out philosophy, politics and so much heart.
The first great show of 2016, Tempest was never short of dazzling, her wordplay witty and wise, her anger palpable but never in the way, part of the equation rather than hint of any problem.
This performance would surely have legitimised rap to any hardened cynic, made poetry fans out of philistines and it certainly left mouths agape as word-darts aimed at the heart flew through the room, so tightly controlled as we heard about the doom and gloom of our everyday existence falling in love with the wrong things (money, power) and missing out on the beauty of words and worlds that we forget about as we punch clocks or people, as we cast judgments through fear. It was a performance that will be talked about all year, and on from there, as new gold standard.
When the words were very occasionally lost, buried in the mix the vibe of the performance was still enough to carry it through.
And the closing poems, both the angry snarl of Europe Is Lost and the more spiritually uplifting Hold Your Own, should have been enough to justify the price of admission. The hour of music and rhyme before them was fascinating and often fantastic, but when Tempest stood alone on the stage, her words flying quick-smart, shot from the hip, it was a brave, virtuoso performance. It was – yes – among the very best things I’ve ever heard and seen and felt.
This review first appeared in The Dominion Post and online at Stuff here