LIVE: Kae Tempest – Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn

It was weird to be back. Back in a venue. Amongst a crowd. It felt like there was a quiet nervousness in the atmosphere. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one who was at their first gig in a while. But maybe I was just upset as the bouncer confiscated some pastries that I had just brought on the way to the show.

Either way, the support act Halima did a great job easing everyone into the evening. Song after song of laid back poppy R&B. It was so joyful. I’m not sure I remember seeing someone so happy to be up there on stage. 

Then we had Kae. They took to the stage, with no music. Launching straight into several minutes of poetry ‘to put some words in the room’. It was a quick reminder of how great a performer they are.

As with their previous live shows they would be playing their new album in full. The difference being that this album is still unreleased. It was also the first show of the tour, so the first time the album as a whole had been put out there. I was pretty excited but also a bit anxious about this. Kae was fully aware that this is often what people don’t want from a show, but they wanted us ‘here on the journey with them’. So that’s where we went.

So to cut to the chase I had a great time. The new album is bold and interesting. Over this album and the prior album it is clear that Kae has moved away from the broad narratives of a concept album. Though the fantastic characterisations of people and place are still littered throughout their songs, Kae is very much at the core of their new music. It all feels smaller and more meaningful, and then in its own way a little bit grander. 

The album is far from perfect though. It felt a little messy. Some of the unevenness was down to sharp fluctuations in tone. It is by far the most musically diverse album yet. There were heavy hits as in one track Kae repeatedly declared that they’ll “fight me ‘til I win” over loud and bouncing beats. At the other end of the spectrum was another song which hung around a very pretty acoustic guitar as they reiterated how important love is. This messiness wasn’t like how a bad roommate leaves your flat. But a less curated and more human offering as they took a lot more risks.

That was also reflected in the performance. It was Kae’s first time on stage in a long time. There were several moments when they were overcome with the moment. Pausing at times. Even restarting a song at one point. These moments just triggered more of an outpouring from the crowd, as everyone seemed down to follow Kae wherever this show went. It all felt very emotional for everyone involved. 

Before I get out of here I did want to pay special attention to the new song ‘Salt Coast’. It is one of the few songs that I had heard before. It’s an ode to everything the UK is and can be. In a room full of expats who likely have conflicted feelings about their home country, like me, this hit pretty hard. Kae’s performance was so emotionally charged, elevating it from the recorded version which I already love. 

And then the album came to an end. We shifted gears to listen to some of Kae’s previous hits. Some had been reworked, again with mixed results. And we parted ways on the perfect closing song ‘Peoples Faces’. As is traditional Kae did no encore. But the crowd was relentless, forcing them to return to stage to thank us for a truly special evening. It was a very special evening indeed. 

Words by Matt Paul

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