LIVE: Kae Tempest - Edinburgh International Festival, Leith Theatre, 20/08/2022

LIVE: Kae Tempest – Edinburgh International Festival, Leith Theatre, 20/08/2022

Looking back at the last time I saw Kae Tempest live, I discover that not only was it at this venue but this very festival. That night I’d not been feeling great, and almost went home before it started, only to end up being very glad I’d stayed for a fantastic event. So, no pressure then.

This time, I’m feeling on top of the world (still on a high from Arab Strap the night before at this venue), and it was an even better gig than three years ago.

Even if Kae Tempest had never made a single record, they would still have already achieved a phenomenal amount in their thirty seven years. First appearing at a poetry event aged sixteen, they have been mightily prolific, going onto publish no less than six collections of poetry, a novel, a work of non-fiction and three plays. This year’s album, The Line Is A Curve, is their fourth album, and amongst their strongest work on record. Not only that, It reached no.8 in the UK album charts.

Tempest arrives on stage, clearly pleased to be here, but also rather overwhelmed with the reception they get before they’ve opened their mouth. When they do, I’m touched that they thank us not only for coming out tonight, but for any arrangements – ‘those of you who’ve taken three buses to get here‘ – would that more performers understood the arrangements that many of us have to put in place to get to gigs. They announce that they’re going to play the album in full – and that’s exactly what they do.

Accompanied by one other performer on production and keyboards, it’s nothing less than a blinding recreation of the album. There are many highlights as they rip through the album, even more electrifying live than on record. Tempest has a brilliant intense delivery that is perfectly matched by the electronic backing. I’m left stunned watching and listening as the boundaries between rap gig, poetry event and club night are blurred until they become something different and new in Tempest’s alchemy. It’s an emotional journey for Tempest, and one for us too. There’s so many highlights on the record – the love letter to Britain that is ‘Salt Coast‘ for example, and taken to a whole new level is ‘Smoking.’ I’ve played this album a number of times over the last few days alone, and I’m listening to it again as I type. Very possibly the album of their career.

As the album section of the show comes to an end, they thank us and tell us that it is an album about recovery and resilience. In 2020, they came out as non-binary, so the last few years have seen them deal with a number of challenges even above what many folk have had. Yet, even when Tempest is acknowledging or describing hardships and difficulties, I always end up taking a great sense of hope from their work.

The second part of the show focuses on older material. From their last album, they start with an a capella version of the poem ‘Hold Your Own.’ In lesser hands this could be difficult, reading poetry to a crowd who have been dancing but Tempest holds their own. We are led down a carefully selected selection of back catalogue that culminates in a blazing flash of strobes and white noise that is truly climatic. It’s been one hell of a journey.

LIVE: Kae Tempest - Edinburgh International Festival, Leith Theatre, 20/08/2022

As with her last time here, she finishes with ‘People’s Faces‘. She brings us back down to earth with this – not in terms of dropping us down, but landing us, like a pilot might after a long flight. Even if you’re not religious, this track is like a hymn, and it brings us all comfort. An astonishing evening.

Same time, same place, 2025 then? I do hope so.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.