It was a short but sweet bill at Fortune Sound on March 29. A healthy portion of the crowd there, awaiting the headlining Ted Hughes Award-winning poet and Mercury Prize-nominated spoken word artist/rapper Kate Tempest, made the effort to show up early for Vancouver's own Gang Signs.
Consisting of Peter Ricq (imaginative visual artist and half of Humans), Adam Fink (contributor to ION Magazine and a third of Common People DJs) and Matea Sarenac (aka DJ Wobangs), Gang Signs have indie cred out the wazoo backing their brand of electro art-rock. Fink had fun on his face, and projected his energy into the crowd, but Ricq and Sarenac tended to do a little more shoegazing, which didn't help to sell the more repetitive moments of their rather minimalist song structures.
Generally, their style does have a bit more of a sobering Joy Division-ish vibe than Humans' no less soul-searching but typically more party-popping territory — the former of which fit in well stylistically with the headlining Tempest — but they were most effective when they dug their heels into some grooves and worked the beats freely.
Kate Tempest garnered her Mercury Prize nod in 2014 for her Big Dada-released debut album, Everybody Down. She had Fortune pretty packed for a Wednesday night, so it doesn't look like she lost any fans with Let Them Eat Chaos, her triumphant sophomore effort put out in late 2016 by Lex. That's a good thing, too, because she performed her recent work in its entirety, in sequential order, from start to finish, as she gracefully informed us she would do at the start. She quoted James Joyce, recognizing the special nature of the moment, the gathering of strangers sharing an experience of something larger than themselves.
Let Them Eat Chaos is a tale of seven sufferers of urban isolation all losing the fight for sleep at 4:18 a.m., their cosmic unity locked in a moment in different suites of the same apartment building. It could easily be adapted into a play (playwright being another hat Tempest wears). Throughout the album, she questions what we're going to do to wake up, expressed in multiple implications through her characters, each of which bears a tale that surely resonates with any empathetic listener.
Bringing the album's dank beats to life was drummer KwAkE BaSs, with his Shamanic midi rhythms, along with synthesists Archie Marsh and Hinako Omori, respectively drawing thick sounds from a Dave Smith Pro 2 and Sequential Prophet-6. They all felt the moments they were helping to create, their bodies swaying forward in time with their lurching beats, funking up the club's body-massaging Funktion-One soundsystem in the best way possible.
Tempest was the eye of the storm, though. Her presence was torrential as she hammered through the whole album without pause, displaying impressive stamina, verbal dexterity and performance timing. When she stopped on a dime in "Europe Is Lost" as if she'd been punched in the stomach, her body language instantly sucked the wind out of the room for half a second, before filling that vacuum back up to capacity.
Tempest has compassionate poetic spirit and lyrical precision borrowed from the souls of Ian Curtis and Janis Joplin. Like them, she doesn't seem to take to the spotlight with great ease, but in her unease, she finds a commonality within us all. She digs deeply into the dark side of humanity, finding the flowers flecking life's dirt and illuminating the tragically unmentioned. Yet, for how unflinchingly she attacked the images of her humanely flawed characters, she couldn't help but express the joy of her creation in a few warm smiles during the more upbeat musical moments. It must feel good to be great.
Refreshingly, there was no pretence whatsoever for this set. There were no forced crowd interactions and no false encore — just album done and then a mic drop. After a bow with her crew, Tempest humbly expressed her gratitude for being with us, and expressed the hope that the experience would endure with us in this age of instant gratification. There's no doubt that it will.