Review + Gallery: Kate Tempest at Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent (Sydney Festival)

January 22nd 2016

FBi Presents Kate Tempest at Sydney Festival 21.1.16 | Photo by Megan Carew

Photo credit: Megan Carew


Spoken word. Performance poetry. Say these words and before they’re out of your mouth, a lot of music fans will have left the room.

So on this stormy Thursday eve, why has a sold-out audience packed into the humid Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent? Some things are more than the sum of their parts.

When British poet and MC Kate Tempest takes the stage, her presence is unassuming. The staging doesn’t give you much to look at, Tempest and her two musicians wear no special performance outfits, there’s nothing fancy about the lighting. It’s understood that we’re all here only to hear an artist who has complete mastery of words.

A beat starts, the bass reverberating in your chest and eardrums. When Tempest launches in, the energy of her whole body is channeled into her vocal delivery. And from there on she has the room transfixed for her whole set. We want to hear every word, and there are lots of them. Tempest packs one line with more meaning than most rappers can expand upon in an entire track.

This is perhaps best illustrated in the closer ‘Europe is Lost’. It sits apart from the rest of the set which roughly follows the lines of her Mercury Prize-nominated debut album Everybody Down, telling one sprawling narrative about the lives of three working class Londoners. Instead, this is a call to arms railing against a generation that turns its eyes from disaster to take solace in happy hours and new shoes. I feel ashamed of the shoe box sitting pretty in my car.

Even a customary between song ‘thank you’ is transformed into a spontaneous poetic interlude that riffs on the atmosphere in the room – “the breaking of the storm, the heat, it feels deep”.

Tempest is clearly very appreciative of the warm reception for her first Sydney show, but isn’t shy to demand attention as well. Mid-way through a spoken word piece reminiscent of an Abbott and Costello sketch, she seamlessly inserts a directive to one smartphone-happy audience member, “don’t film it man, be here, be here”. He obeys.

When Kate Tempest speaks, you listen.


Kate Tempest performs again on Friday night at the Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent.


All photos by Megan Carew, 21 January 2016.



Host of Tuesday Lunch, 1-3pm on FBi 94.5FM.

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