Celtic rock band Tempest has been delivering their brand of high-energy electrified folk music for nearly three decades now. The band released their first album in five years, The Tracks We Leave, last year. The core of the band remains two founding members who it might be a surprise to find playing Celtic music – imposingly tall (yet exceedingly good-natured) Norwegian-born frontman Lief Sorbye, and Cuban-born drummer Adolfo Lazo.
The rest of the line-up has changed numerous times over the years, but the current membership – Kathy Buys on fiddle, Josh Fossgreen on bass, and newest member Ab Menon on guitar – is as strong as any which has played with the band. Last Saturday, the band made a stop at the Sellersville Theater in Sellersville, PA, a small town in the northern suburbs of Philadelphia. Originally scheduled opener Full Frontal Folk had to cancel at the last minute, so Tempest ended up playing two sets.
The band opened the first set with “September Jig,” an instrumental track from the new album, followed by a return to their first album, 1991’s Bootleg, with “Heather On the Moor.” While the band maintains much of the traditional style associated with Irish and Scottish folk music, they bring prog and hard rock sensibilities to it that serve to enliven and modernize their sound, carrying on a tradition in folk rock started by bands like Steeleye Span and Lindisfarne in the 60s and 70s. Likely most surprising to those seeing Tempest for the first time is Sorbye’s double-necked electric mandolin. The mandolin might not be an instrument that’s generally associated with rocking out, but watching Sorbye and hearing the sounds coming from it (as intense as any electric guitar) will change anyone’s mind quickly. For a trio of songs from the new album – “Fog on the Bay” (a new version of a song which Sorbye wrote with his previous band, Golden Bough), “Ganesh,” and a new arrangement of classic Tempest track “Surfing to Mecca” (originally the title track from the band’s third album from 1994) – Sorbye switched to Ian Anderson-influenced flute. They closed the set out with traditional Scottish song “Eppy Moray” and “Wizard’s Walk” from 2007’s The Double Cross.
The second set began with another traditional instrumental, “Coalminers’,” which appeared on their 2003 album Shapeshifter, and then followed this up with a set of tracks from the new album. Most notable amongst these was “Alle Mann Hadde Fota” (“All Men Have Feet”), a traditional Norwegian song that Sorbye sang in his native tongue. Another Norwegian song appeared later in the set, “Bonden Og Kraka” (“The Farmer and the Crow”). The band closed out the set with the instrumental track “Jenny Nettles,” a rocked-up version of Dougie MacLean’s “Buffalo Jump” (which the band recorded on 1997’s The Gravel Walk), and another instrumental, “The Karfluki Set.”
The band returned to the stage for a final encore playing one of their most popular tracks, a rocked-up version of Scottish poet Robert Burns’ anti-war rewrite of the traditional song “You Jacobites By Name.” They ended the show with one more instrumental track, “High Rise” from 2010’s Another Dawn.
Tempest doesn't currently have any DC dates scheduled, but they will be returning to Philly for the Philadelphia Folk Festival in August.