The yawning spaces of North London’s HMV Forum quickly filled with devotees for the first of two sell-out shows by Bat For Lashes, currently touring the UK on the back of their latest album, The Haunted Man. Those of us packing the ground floor standing area were soon bemoaning an abnormally high number of exceeding tall people in front while those seated in the steep balcony above could only peer down smugly. Looking to the stage, the faded opulence of the 1930’s Forum seemed at ease with the pastoral set edged with standing stones and lit by simple lanterns (and, of course, some extremely expensive spots and floods).
From the moment Natasha Khan took the stage in bold white stripes it was hard to take your eyes off her. Her austere yet charming black and white striped brocade gown fanned down to her ankles and took on rich shades of brown and burgundy as the lighting effects played. With the exception of an elfin-faced cellist, her band melted into the background and assumed the role of technicians providing the underbelly to Khan’s extensive armoury of top notes. Mixing nine tracks from the new record with eight from her previous two albums, Khan was clearly among friends most of whom seemed as comfortable with the new material as with the old.
Opening with “Lilies”, Bat For Lashes set an alternating soft and loud tone that ran through almost the entire night. The new song shifted from quiet guitar to synth-fuelled flourishes, over which Khan’s cerebral vocal soared to impassioned heights. The trio of older songs that followed continued a kind of light and dark battle between singer and band. Khan’s voice was never swamped though occasionally the bass synth threatened to rearrange your stomach. Percussion was very much to the fore and Khan used every opportunity to beat a rhythm out of anything she could grab hold of, including an old-fashioned wireless set during the encore. She displayed enviable mobility and theatricality, taking any opportunity to dance or glide serving wench-like around the stage.
Throughout the opening songs the audience maintained a respectful, restrained air. Despite its dark centre, it was not until the single “All Your Gold” struck up a much dancier vibe that the audience began to loosen up a bit. Khan responded by dedicating the next song “Marilyn” to her family. This being a home gig “there are lots of them here”, she added to acknowledging cheers. The song is a celebratory gem and Khan’s voice escaped to another planet as she hit the opening line of the chorus: “Holding you I’m touching a star.”
Things were mixed up some more during the mid part of the set. The rhythmic intensity of new cut “Horses Of The Sun” was followed by a stripped back duet between Khan and Ben Christophers on piano during “Laura”. The song showcased everything that is great about Khan’s voice while introducing lyrics that highlighted the perils of celebrity; a theme far more grounded in real life than her often more mystical musings. We were then treated to some wonderfully rich harmonies from her band during “Siren Song” from Two Suns.
After a strong closer in “Pearl’s Dream”, encores were inevitable and warmly received. “The Haunted Man” was enlivened by Khan wielding the aforementioned antique radio, thereby adding physical strength to her many facets. Finally combining hidden depth with listen-up immediacy, “Daniel”, Khan’s best-known song, sent everyone home happy and turned a respectful audience into a rapturous one.
Photography by Nathan Dainty.
What’s A Girl To Do?
All Your Gold
Horse And I
Horses Of The Sun
Rest Your Head
The Haunted Man