Kate Tempest’s Vicar Street show began with the mother of all selfie moments. The 33-year-old poet and rapper disapproves of mid-concert photography and instructed the audience to get their snap-happy impulses out of the way at the outset. What was to follow would, she promised, be intense. We should give ourselves to the here and now and leave our phones in our pockets.
She proved true to her pledge with a performance that dived deep and dark and suggested the Brexit Britain angst she channeled so powerfully had something to say to contemporary Ireland too.
Tempest, whose real name is Kate Calvert, has a formula – but it is singular. She is both rock star and rhymer, her work fusing the grittiness of rap and the structural density of literary verse. The mix is irresistible, especially when paired with drowsy grooves from Clare Uchima, who triggered beats and played keyboard.
With a Kubrick-ian black disc as backdrop, Tempest opened with edited highlights from her first two albums, Everybody Down and Let Them Eat Chaos. Both have been nominated for the Mercury Prize and the latter, in its printed incarnation, for the Costa Poetry Book of the Year.
“The people are dead in their lifetimes/Dazed in the shine of the streets,” she began on Europe Is Lost, casting a cold eye on late capitalist society and the faceless cogs it has, in her estimation, reduced us to. “But look how the traffic's still moving/System's too slick to stop working.”
Calvert’s poetry glints coldly on the page and it is slightly surreal to reflect that she attended the same Brit school in Croydon that produced Adele, Jessie J and Leona Lewis. And it comes even more urgently to life set to music and that remained the case as she performed in full her latest LP The Books of Traps and Lessons. Here the sonics took a backseat to the word play but the effect was nonetheless intoxicating.
There wasn’t much humour. But Tempest furnished the audience with all the catharsis it could require as she interrogated the woes of the world from the perspective of a millennial whose idealism was diminishing day by day, hour by hour. Phones down, we joined her as she spoke her truths and swept us away to a Neverland lit by street lamps, flashing police lights and the first smudge of dawn on the horizon.