Kate Tempest on Traps and Lessons

Kate Tempest
Kate Tempest at the Alhambra, Geneva, 2019.

At the Alhambra, Geneva, yesterday evening, Kate Tempest was greeted by a packed, enthusiastic crowd of which I was one. She whipped up a deluge of words and music breaking over us, wave after wave, constantly reminding us, bringing us back to a forgotten fundamental, that language is a union of sounds and sense. Out of the interplay, sounds rubbing against sounds, or clashing in unexpected dissonance, the whole underscored by music, meaning thrust out like leering faces surging from a crowd, unexpected, startling, only to be lost in the next wave of the storm.

Hurled so loud, the amplified beats replaced the racing heart in our chest. The words blurred in our ears such was the volume. Was the loudness a gain? Maybe. Force fused words till at moments all was but music. The sheer mass of words itself made music out of them. However does she remember so much? The blurring between words and music was reinforced as her voice slipped and slid between the two, bending the spoken word to a rythme that was not its, the stream of words, sometimes suspended, sometimes almost bursting into song, was like a jogger walking fast who breaks into a run only to slow to a walk again.

Was the excessive volume a loss? Surely! Much of the beauty of the play on words and sounds was drowned out. That it could be listened to otherwise was evidenced by her latest album, A Land of Traps and Lessons. Every word of grim reality and of heart-rending visions, every clash of sound and meaning can be heard and appreciated. Whatever. I don’t regret having been present.

As the initial applause died down at her entry, Kate Tempest walked to the edge of the stage and peered out through the spotlights, saying, “Let me see your faces. I like to see your faces.” It made her feel less strange doing what she was about to do she said. Her concert ended with People’s Faces, a heart-wrenching battle-cry, at least I imagine it did, I had to rush off to catch the last train. In that final track of her new album, she says, “There is so much peace to be found in people’s faces” and concludes, “… the current’s fast but the river moves slow and I can feel things changing, even when I’m weak and I’m breaking and I stand weeping at the train station ‘cause I can see your faces. I love people’s faces.”