New Zealand Festival 2020; Kate Tempest. Michael Fowler Centre, February 24.
Kate Tempest graced the cavernous space of the Michael Fowler Centre on Monday night.
She’s been described as a rapper, a poet, a spoken word artist, and a lit fuse. Her genuine, human approach to performing was humbling to watch.
She opened with a story of boxer Tyson Fury, her self-confessed boxing hero, who made his heavyweight comeback at the weekend. She spoke of her awe and appreciation of his story – he fell so far and clawed back.
As a performer, she was endlessly human and genuine. She dedicated her show to anyone struggling with mental health, and seemed genuinely grateful we’d come to see her.
The experience was perhaps better suited to a more intimate venue – a smoky bar, or a low-ceilinged warehouse – but the energy from two people, Tempest and her accompanying synth player, was astonishing. They filled the space with patterns of light and words.
Deep and complex beats supported her florid and often uncomfortable imagery.
She was fragility writ large. Each song flowed into the next, barely discernible as separate works. The room seemed to thump with the weight of the bass and her words.
The lighting was effective and evocative, the set design simple. A giant red circle took centre stage reflecting white and red lights, and framing Tempest as she performed.
The nearly sold-out crowd was a mix of friends of the festival – dedicated, longtime attendants – and hardcore fans of Tempest.
Before the second song was far underway, people had left the straitlaced rows of the audience in favour of the floor in front of the stage.
By show’s end, nearly 20 people were dancing to the thumping bass and synth, and placing their elbows on the stage to gaze adoringly at her during the slower parts.
The songs flowed into each other, one barely differentiated from the next. Seeing her live was a completely different experience to listening to her album – overwhelming, heavy with emotion, a complete journey through despair, love, heartbreak, love again, despair, and then hope.
She “didn’t believe in” the disingenuousness of encores, but when the audience took to their feet to applaud she returned to the stage thanked us all for coming so as not to leave us disappointed.
She left the audience in awe of her grace and wit, questioning parts of their existence, and many with tears on their cheeks.