A resonant evening of eloquent and grimy spoken word. New Music review by Katie Colombus
For those wondering if performance poet Kate Tempest would be upstaged or introduced by either pandemic panic or International Women’s Day – know that a) she’s fearless and b) she practices equality always. As such, there’s no pre-amble, other than a hope that her gig will “resonate into the night and the days to come”.
Kate gets straight into her post-Brexit narrative track “Europe Is Lost”, she heaves “’Cause it’s big business, baby, and its smile is hideous; top down violence, and structural viciousness” slowing down to deliver the line “Jail him, he’s the criminal”, to whoops from the audience. But this gig doesn’t dwell on political condemnation – there is philosophy, too – and a softer message of hope. “We Die” sees a confident focus on the existential, as she pulls out the lines: “Everything’s connected; And even if I can’t read it right, everything’s a message; We die so the others can be born; We age so the others can be young; The point of life is live, love; If you can, then pass it on, right?”
It’s such an odd eloquence. Her soft voice layers strong lyrics on top of a grimy beat – a fascinating duality that lands like a sucker punch. A million words come lightning quick at times, or slow and song-like at others in a clever set that builds and falls like the pace and lyricism of a well-constructed poem. Energy picks up, leading to “The Beigeness” – an intense and intimate telling of “a young girl with the truth and the alley cat”, here focused again on the cyclical idea that, “All life is forward you will see, all life is forwards… forwards…” – a line that she slows down and repeats throughout the gig.
We hear voyeuristic detail in the flowers on the windowsill of “Ketamine for Breakfast”; agonising vulnerability in “Circles” and “I Trap You” – told like an internal/external monologue in which she turns inwards to whisper lines into her shoulder with a hand over her face, before swinging outwards with a manic grin, delivering lines to fairground music. “Tunnel Vison” delivers more wisdom, before “Firesmoke” shakes us up with its Massive Attack beat and “Circles” sees Kate hanging in the shadows like a bystander coming up at the club. “People’s Faces” finishes the set, to a gentle, rippling piano, reminding us to notice: “Was that a pivotal historical moment; We just went stumbling past?”
But we have listened to every word – heard her message in the powerful silence of “All Humans Too Late”, delivered acapella; in the parts slowed down, like “Hold. Your. Own. And. Let. It. Be. Catching.” Punctuated with hope and enunciated with empathy so that we get it, so that we understand, so that we retain, so that it can, resonate.
Source: The Arts Desk