“How are you?” asked Natasha Khan tentatively at one point midway through her set, one of the first of a UK tour in support of her recently-released third album The Haunted Man. “Not too sad?” Anything but.
She’s learned to do weather-beaten, heart-crushing melancholy as well as almost anyone in the business, but at the same time Khan’s Bat For Lashes alias has finally yielded an unerring accuracy for simple, resonant beauty.
Over her recorded life so far, and despite the fact that 2006’s Fur and Gold and 2009’s Two Suns both gathered Mercury nominations, there’s a real sense that the Londoner’s career has been a slow burn rather than an explosive burst into the big time like, for example, her contemporary, spiritual companion and fellow sometime Mercury nominee Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine.
Gone were the bright headbands and the extravagant clothing of her last reinvention now, though - before us stood an overtly mature musician in a black and grey backless gown and a demure, jet-black bob.
An air of bright and unforced sophistication pervaded the music as well, from the opening Lilies to the taut rhythm of All Your Gold and the simple, glistening chords of Laura, a duet between Khan and her pianist rather than an understated full band piece like most of the others.
All were drawn from the new record, but Khan selected carefully from her by now rich catalogue elsewhere: "Siren Song" was one particular standout, its evocation of tenderness rent apart by its character’s ability to stay true (“it won't be long until you break / because I'm evil”) as delicately chilling as many Nick Cave might conjure.
Throughout, what struck was the sheer sense of quality, from the understated but precise musical backing to the ghostly warmth of Khan’s voice, so close to its recorded version but somehow let loose here.
Even the build-up of pace was achieved with seemingly genuine enthusiasm for the fact it was Friday night, with the new record’s crescendo of a title track giving way to the vicious lyrical imagery and joyful, silken electropop of "A Wall", her most familiar song "Daniel" and the groove-laden finale "Pearl’s Dream", all accompanied by Khan’s enthusiastic and more than capable dancing.
So no, no sadness here - just the sense that Khan has reached a new career plateau and that a third Mercury nomination might be warranted in 2013.