Dressed in a black gender-free utility suit, their light ginger hair cut short and precise and with the sharpest fade, Kae Tempest wandered casually on to the stage as if there were no stage at all and we were all standing together at the bar of SWG3 in Glasgow. This is the first album and tour that Kae has undertaken since coming out as non-binary. Short hair is important. In a recent Guardian interview, Kae chronicled their coming-out journey, and described how the process of cutting off their previous trademark long hair was instrumental in accepting themselves and being open and proud in the world as trans and non-binary.
Kae struck up an instant intimacy with the audience, taking us into their confidence and telling us we are safe here. They said that every gig on the tour (last night Edinburgh, night before Manchester) was different, and here in Glasgow they invoked friendship, and like a spell had been cast over the audience, we were all bonded in the same circle.
Everything is beautiful
And then no more chat: they are straight in, non stop for the next 90 minutes. Starting with every track of their new album The Line Is a Curve (April 2022), Kae’s powerful and precise rhythmic vocab finds wonder in the mundane and everyday: “Everything is beautiful”. The album is less mythic than the last time I saw Kae live on her Brand New Ancients tour in 2013 and it is less universal than the insomniac city street at 4.18am of their last album, Let Them Eat Chaos. Instead The Line Is a Curve is an honest conversation, direct from Kae to us.
Kae’s words tie multiple images and concepts of contemporary urban life. Accompanying Kae’s South London cadence is a guy on a synth, obviously one of Kae’s musician mates they reference during the gig. Friends are important to Kae. He brings minimalist electronic beats to punctuate Kae’s words. On a couple of tracks including the last track from the album,Grace, the sound of an indie band introduces the track, not Kae’s usual musical pairing.
Between songs Kae sways but does not speak. They bashfully accept the audience applause, small and self effacing, shyly touching their face and hair. They have a heartmelting grin, proud but slightly embarrassed by the attention. But then the next song starts and they transform, swaggering across the stage, their silhouette huge in the stage lights.
Stand-out songs were Nothing to Prove, with great lines like “Nothing to Lose But Sleep”, and Smoking, evoking memories of their mother. The audience erupted on hearing Kae’s recent single More Pressure which, like many of their tracks, had the emotional force and rhythm of a liturgy of love.
The album over, Kae went straight into their most well-known tracks from earlier albums. The gig goes darker as Kae takes us into their earlier darker dub rhythms. The audience reacts stronger now to tracks such asKetamine for Breakfast, which they seem to know well, and the night’s last track, People’s Faces, a warcry for empathy. The last words Kae recites are “I Iove peoples faces”; a great line to end on, it sums up Kae’s loving acceptance of humanity in all its strangeness.
They offer no encore, ending the gig by bewitching the audience so that the venue’s energy becomes ever more tangible with people hollering and screaming. Then, as our energy peaks, Kae tells us to hold the energy right there, and to take it away with us.
And then it was finished. Kae ambles off, disappearing into the black, leaving us full.
For your fix of Kae Tempest and to check out their tour dates, click here.
Massive thanks to Siobhan for this review. Find out about Siobhan’s Rebel Dykes documentary here.