Reviews/Music/Performance/Perth Festival

Tempest takes our breath away

16 February 2023

Poet and musician Kae Tempest starts their Australian tour in Perth with a breathtaking show. Ara Jansen is happy to be deprived of oxygen.

Kae Tempest
The Rechabite Hall, 15 February 2023

“Hopefully we can have an experience that’s bigger than us,” suggests Kae Tempest, as the British poet, rapper, musician, playwright and author introduces themself. They explain that all the talk is going to happen before the set. Once things get going it’s no surprise Tempest has chosen to do it this way.

Kae Tempest is not your usual artist. They use a mix of rapping and spoken word which rides over the top of the music, rarely spits out a conventional sentence and links the most thought-provoking images together.

It’s a refreshingly different kind of music performance. Words, phrases, sentences, thoughts all delivered with arrowed precision and placed in an order designed to tell a story. It’s not told like a pop song with chorus returns, but more like a piece of electronica which runs start to finish. They are a master of pace and phrasing, ebb and flow.

It’s hugely impressive that Tempest remembers all these sometimes disparate words strung together. The magnificence of how it’s delivered, however, literally leaves you holding your breath – and then feeling breathless as they scatter shot more lines.

Tempest is a marvel for lung capacity – pure testament to what a body can do while non-stop freestyle rhyming.

Kae Tempest really connects with the audience. Photo: Sophie Minissale

In a yet to be post-COVID world, Tempest is doing what we’re craving – connecting. Across almost two dozen songs they are marvellous and heroic, throwing out stories of life, love and social comment. The first part of the set is Tempest’s new album The Line is a Curve, followed by back catalogue favourites and a trio of new songs. 

Nothing to Prove is stunning and one of the more commercial numbers, which runs into No Prizes. Salt Coast is haunting with its refrain of “salt coast, foul wind, old ghosts, scrap tin”, the night’s deep burrowing earwig, contrasting with the intimate and sexy Firesmoke.

Accompanist Hinako Omori is a master of her keyboards and samples, pushing the machines to everything from droning backfills, white noise underpinning tracks, vast soundscapes and lush piano chords. As Tempest spits or croons, the music hardens and softens.

When they spit fire in Smoking or Ketamine for Breakfast it’s painful and evokes sympathy but they also remind us there are still better choices to make in the future. During three new songs – Love Harder, Thinking Clearly and Nice Idea – Tempest misses a couple of lines and laughs through it. It’s the only time they do and the crowd are right there with them, cheering.

Through it all Tempest is vulnerably open and fights for kindness. For us to be better people to ourselves, to others and to the world. They are the moments you can hear a pin drop and the room holds a collective breath. 

As they perform People’s Faces, they look out into the crowd. Really look. How often does an audience ever actually feel seen? It’s startling.

Reminding us, among other things, that “nothing you can buy will ever make you more whole”, the closer Hold Your Own is devastating. Flat out, lay on the ground and cut your heart out brilliant. What a finish.

Most concerts are about artists throwing their songs out into the room for the audience to enjoy. Tempest drops and places theirs as a way to connect. To draw us to them – and ultimately re-connect us back to ourselves. It’s incredibly, gloriously and wonderfully human.

Pictured top: Kae Tempest is openly vulnerable in a breathtaking performance. Photo: Sophie Minissale

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Author —
Ara Jansen

Ara Jansen is a freelance journalist. Words, bright colour, books, music, art, fountain pens, good conversation, interesting people and languages make her deeply happy. A longtime music journalist and critic, she’s the former music editor of The West Australian. Being in the pool next to the playground is one of her favourite places, ever.

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