Bat For Lashes, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London
Tuesday 21 April 2009
Natasha Khan's alter ego, Bat for Lashes, is a daunting live prospect, flitting as she does between dark, otherworldly princess and timid, slightly posh, Brighton-born pop ingénue. A former nursery-school teacher, Natasha Khan's DIY musical creativity is used to harness deep, dark emotions, and if there's a theme for both her Mercury-nominated debut, Fur and Gold, and her recent follow-up, Two Suns, it's the honesty and naiveté of youth mixed with very adult themes of loss and heartbreak. That's not to suggest simplicity, though. The latter of her albums has been described by Khan as an essay in duality, and her lyrics certainly feature the poetic complexity to back the claim up.
This duality is more difficult to express in a live performance. Between the stage's unusual dressing – of antique lamps, wolf heads and a tree of monitors – and the reserve with which the performance was delivered, there was a theatricality that created the sensation that the audience were voyeurs looking in on a strange dream world. The complicated interweaving of instrumentation in her work was often replicated coldly, so that it was almost impossible to feel moved emotionally by the performance, despite its many accomplishments.
There was a clear indication of the difficulties of such an intensely choreographed set when, during "Prescilla", the pressure to be meaningfully involved in the performance overflowed and pockets of the audience began to punctuate the song with clapping, clashing as they did with the song's difficult, trippy beat.
Recent single "Daniel" was performed twice, perhaps out of recognition of its multifaceted charm. In its first incarnation, which came halfway through the set, it was stripped of it's electro-pop stylings down to its bare, surreal bones. It allowed Khan's flawless vocal delivery to illuminate the intricacies of a delicate and complicated song. Later, when technical problems troubled the ending of "Siren Song", it was a testament to the range of tones and pitches displayed over the evening that an outburst of feedback sounded like it may be a part of the show. Khan's voice was the stand-out element of the set, crystal clear as it swooped around the vocal range like some kind of divine, haunting theremin.
Where sometimes the delivery was cold and without feeling, it' s a reminder that great bands bridge the gap between their musical and real personas with stage experience and charisma. Khan may not have the charisma to do this yet, but her performance is no less enchanting and captivating for it.
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