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Words poured out of Kate Tempest from the moment she took the stage. Before the music even began, the performance poet was in emotional overdrive. She paid effusive tribute to her drummer, Kwake Bass, on his birthday, reminisced about previous local gigs playing outside pubs on the Camden Crawl, and repeatedly noted what a momentous occasion it was to sell out her biggest venue yet in her home town. She even declared two things that would usually have a crowd bristling: “I’m going to play the new album in full” and “Put down your camera phones”.
But the audience more than happily obeyed, instantly enthralled by Tempest’s sincerity. As show-offy as most musicians are, bands usually hide behind their music when it comes to communicating with their audience, with many not going much beyond some mumbled thank yous. Not Tempest, though. Living up to her stage name, for the next hour she tried to create a communal connection with an almost ferocious intensity, firing out the interlinking stories that make up her second album, Let Them Eat Chaos.
Like John Lanchester’s 2012 novel Capital, the record depicts life on one London street, zooming in on seven characters all awake at 4.18am as a storm, both literal and metaphorical, approaches. In prologues, Tempest acts like a film director, drawing her audience into the milieu of each character before switching to their internal monologue, exposing the poverty and soulless gentrification warping the bonds of community. Each one is very much alone.
To convey these different voices, the 30-year-old, who began life as a rapper, occasionally modulated her flow but not much else, sticking to her own declamatory south London accent. The music, created by producer Dan Carey, similarly drew from a small palette of dark electronic beats — a shade of house here, a touch of dancehall and dubstep there.
The effect was to keep you locked into the profuse, poetic narrative tumbling out of Tempest as she paced up and down the stage, the music working to oxygenate the imagery. The effect was utterly riveting. The high point was “Europe is Lost”, a piece that managed to encapsulate 2016’s atmosphere of escalating topsy-turvy terror, skittering from references to selfies to global atrocities and back again at breakneck speed.
“We are lost, we are lost, we are lost,” she intoned. But with Tempest trying to steer the boat in the eye of the storm, that’s the last thing you feel. Out of chaos she creates magnificence.