Monday, April 20, 2009

Gig review: Bat For Lashes

The Shepherd's Bush Empire is one of those venues where the audience prefers the sound of their own voices to the singer they've paid £20 to see, so it's a tribute to Bat For Lashes' Natasha Khan that she is greeted with reverent silence by a sell-out crowd.

She prances onto the stage like a pixie... A pixie with the innocent brown eyes of a deer, dressed in cream pantaloons and a Victorian ruff. It's all very Alison Goldfrapp; and completely at odds with her bombastic, percussion-heavy set.

The action kicks off with a muscular version of Glass, the stunning opening track from her top five album, Two Suns, during which all eyes are fixed on the female drummer and her cartoonish blur of flailing limbs.

Khan steals the spotlight back, though, largely thanks to her vocals, which (bizarrely) are stronger on stage than on CD. A stripped-back interpretation of Daniel is an early highlight, and tons better than the full band encore version.

The singer recently told me (via a complex metaphor about crop rotation) that she prefers writing and recording to the promotional schedule, and she does indeed seem happier with a musical prop to steady her nerves. The best moments of the night come when she's sat behind a keyboard for the soaring Moon and Moon, or Horse & I. Later, when she dances around with a string of tiny silver bells, it all seems less assured.

If there's a complaint to be made, it's that the drums occasionally pummel all the subtlety out of Khan's delicate, folksy arrangements. But, just as frequently, they propel a mediocre album track into the pop stratosphere.

There are moments of hushed beauty, too. Prescilla, which Khan plays solo on a plucked dulcimer, is a finely spun piece of heaven.

"Thanks for being such a great audience," she says as she floats off the stage. "And for being so quiet".

Setlist via Preamble on Flickr

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