There is something funny about gigs in churches. Maybe it’s that bit in the Bible about not worshipping false idols, but this is where we find ourselves, on a mild night in December. The occasion for several hundred people to convene isn’t anything to do with religion, well unless you consider religion a religion, but that’s a topic for another time. The reason is to witness one of the brightest lights at the moment perform in an intimate venue perhaps for the last time. That bright light is Kate Tempest. For those of you out of the loop, Tempest is the poet-turned-rapper-turned-poet who since 2013 has released three flawless studio albums, a couple of spoken word albums and a slew of books and plays. In a nutshell she is Dylan Thomas mixed with Rakim. OK, that is a pretty basic summation of her, but if you could imagine Dylan Thomas now, writing about the inner workings of South London, set to a gritty beat, you’re on the right track. But I’ll get to Tempest in a bit.
The support was handled by Pumarosa, another alumni of Tempest’s long-time collaborator Dan Carey. Their brand of hypnotic, dance influenced indie was what the crowd needed. Their standout track ‘Lions Den’ felt very fitting for the location. Huge swells of keyboards filled the vast room and Isabel Munoz-Newsome’s vocals added a sense of solemnity and ceremony to the evening. At times it felt like a musical cousin or poignant response to Radiohead’s monster ‘Pyramid Song’. And then as soon as Pumarosa has started they were off and we were left anticipating the main event.
As soon as Tempest took the stage you could feel the excitement and electricity in the air. Everyone present knew this was going to be something special. The band was made up of percussion genius Kwake Bass, Clare Uchima, and Dan Carey. “I’m going to play the album in its entirety tonight, as that seems like the only way, in my mind, to tell the story,” then added, “So put your phones away, the photos and videos are always shit anyway, and no one wants to watch the gig through your phone anyway…” And then we were off.
“Picture a vacuum / An endless and unmoving blackness / Peace, or the absence at least, of terror / I see, and amongst all this space.” As Tempest continues to recount this opening gambit, the music swells and grows around her, and us, like maelstroms, undulating this way and that only to cut another path after a few second. “This is a city, let’s call her Brighton,” Huge cheers from the crowd and a wry smile from Tempest and band, “And these are the only times you have known”. ‘Lionmouth Door Knocker’ was up next. It felt like a live mix at the seamless ease the band traversed from one track to the next. This is the track that sets up the album. This is it’s premise. Seven people are awake a 4:18 am. Their lives are unconnected other than they live on the same street. “At any given moment / In the middle of a city / There’s a million epiphanies occurring / And the blurring of the world beyond the curtain / And the world within the person / There’s a quiver in the litter / In the alleyway, he’s singing.” And this is what we are tonight. A collection of people, who don’t know each other, who have been connected by one seemingly trivial event. The need to see this musician live has given us one collective moment.
The standout track of the night was ‘Europe is Lost’. Written originally in 2015, it foreshadows the political climate we find ourselves in and puts a carnival mirror to society. Everything is grotesque and skewed, but we can see enough of ourselves to find equal levels of amusement and horror. But what made this rendition powerful was that after its blistering start the instrumentation just dropped off and Tempest delivered it a capella. This reminded us that she isn’t some kind of manufactured pop-star, but an artist who cut her teeth at open mic and battle rap nights.
‘Whoops’ gave us some light relief. Written about Pete, “Well, who’s this? / Staggerin’ home, jabberin’ / Lookin’ like some street smart arrogant gnome / Feet stickin’ to the kerb like javelins / thrown / with a catchy chorus and bouncy beat and bass combo”, a mashed up guy who is on his way home after a night out. The chorus was catchy and the music had a big bouncy breakbeat and bassline combo. This was what we needed after five tracks of social commentary and conscious Hip-Hop. As the night and album carried on, the remaining stories were played out and when the piece’s conclusion is delivered, “What we gonna do to wake up? / We sleep so deep / It don’t matter how they shake us / If we can’t face it / We can’t escape it / But tonight the storm’s come” and then “Justice, justice, recompense, humility / Trust is, trust is something we will never see / Till love is unconditional / The myth of the individual has left us disconnected / lost, and pitiful / I’m out in the rain / It’s a cold night in Brighton / And I’m screaming at my loved ones to wake up and love more / I’m pleading with my loved ones to wake up and love more”. We feel that we haven’t just been entertained, but we’ve been privy to something bigger. This wasn’t just a hip-hop gig, avant-garde pop or spoken word night, it was something greater than its parts.
The encore was a new song. It featured Carey on a piano and Tempest. It was the most intimate moment of the night, and given that there were a few hundred of us in a massive church this was quite an achievement. Before it started Tempest said “I know that was a bit full on, but I just want to give you something positive before you go out in the cold”. It was a war cry for people to connect in an organic and non-digital way. And like that, Tempest and Carey were off and the house lights were on. As always happens, the walk home was full of introspection about what we had witnessed. Let Them Eat Chaos is by far one of the strongest albums of the year and a high water mark in an incredibly strong back catalogue. The ease in which Tempest controlled the crowd and our willingness to go along with hard and difficult ideas showed yet again that she has creative and performance powers well beyond her years. But you do question, where can she go from here? After Brand New Ancients and Everybody Down some questioned if she’d peaked too soon. Luckily for us these fears seem premature. So let’s go back to the start. Yes there is something funny about gigs in churches. But Tempest isn’t a false idol though. She’s worthy of our applause and adulation, and I’ve a feeling she hasn’t even got warmed up yet.