Live Reviews Music

Kae Tempest @ St David’s Hall, Cardiff – Live Review (14/05/22)

Written by Lizzi Richards

Kae Tempest is an artist, a poet, a playwright, a rapper, a storyteller. They wear many hats, and they wear them well. This was my third time seeing Kae Tempest, this time in Cardiff’s grand St David’s Hall, and every time has been a unique and thrilling experience. This time was no exception.

The decision to host this at a seated venue still feels like an odd one, with people still looking for their seats and pushing down the rows, Tempest’s support act appeared on stage: Shungudzo. Shungudzo rose to the challenge of warming up an awkward crowd by asking the audience to shout their own name out with joy, breaking the silence with an on-point, affirming act for the crowd, especially given that this was Tempest’s first tour since publicly coming out as nonbinary. It’s clear that Tempest’s multi-genre, multi-discipline approach brings out a full spectrum of people to their shows. With just laptops and a microphone as her accompaniment, Shungudzo’s energy bursts into Glastonbury levels as she commands the room to listen to her deeply reflective and empowering lyrics. Her music is so open, listening in feels like reading her diary, ‘I really love feelings’, she professes between songs. Her songs move between the personal and the political, with her latest single ‘It’s a Good Day to Fight the System’ getting a great reaction from the crowd. Shungudzo’s set was filled with her thoughts on self-love and gratitude for life which felt much needed to kick off the post-lockdown summer.

Shungudzo by Lizzi Richards

As Kae Tempest walked onto the stage, the audience erupted into massive applause communicating their anticipation and delight, barely allowing Tempest room to speak. After thanking the crowd for the overwhelming response, they noted the seating arrangement and asked people to get up or stay seated if they wanted to. Starting with a full set from their new album The Line is a Curve and ending with a mix of their older work, Tempest’s set was energetic, thought-provoking and powerful throughout. The crowd did not stay seated for long, with people approaching the stage and dancing through Tempest’s incredible performance of ‘More Pressure’. This song really showcases Tempest’s talent at not only capturing complex ideas into words but delivering them at speed, challenging anyone who might call them just a spoken-word artist and proving them worthy of any rap stage. The album performance was vivid in detail and introspective from start to finish, taking the audience along for the ride. This first section closed out with the gorgeous ‘Grace’, which is almost prayer-like in tone; they proclaim ‘if you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you’. 

The stage design was minimal, with a large tree shape covered in lights and wires at the back of the stage. This really allowed the lighting design to shine, with colours and flashing lights mirroring either the speed or the softness or the intensity of different songs. Also notable was the synth player, Tempest’s only accompaniment on stage. She set the pace with wonderful stripped-back beats for some and crafted a big, intense atmosphere for others, creating a crescendo into chaos. 

Kae Tempest by Lizzi Richards

 In the final section of the performance, Tempest recalled familiar favourites. This section covered a range of emotions and issues, commenting on the state of things in Britain: drugs, disillusionment, poverty, love. Their performance of ‘Fire Smoke’ was particularly moving, this soulful love song moves slowly, allowing the audience to take the time to drink it in. I don’t think there was a single dry eye in the room by the end of this one that captures the bliss of being in love. It’s clear by now that the audience is not just here to be entertained, rather they have come to celebrate being out again, they come to be thankful, to be thoughtful, to escape and feel present all at once. They are reaching out to hold Tempest’s hand as they dance and feel. Tempest closes out the night with a beautiful performance of ‘People’s Faces’ – a song that thanks the companionship of community and being human as the solution for the confusion of it all. This one feels particularly poignant post-lockdown as they call out to us ‘my sanity’s saved ‘cause I can see your faces’.