Bat for Lashes at the Academy

Before she was offered a record deal four years ago, Natasha Khan worked as a nursery teacher. It’s difficult to imagine the Bat for Lashes frontwoman soothing grazed knees and comforting children with a bit of story time – comforting certainly isn’t the first word that springs to mind as she appears on stage and launches into the keyboard intro of ‘Horse and I.’ Otherworldly, yes; maybe even a little unsettling, as anyone who’s seen the video for ‘What’s a Girl to do?’ (hooded cyclists wearing creepy-looking bunny masks following Khan on a dark woodland path) can testify. If anything, Khan is more like a character from a fairy-tale herself, a kind of sorceress-like figure with her ethereal voice and predilection towards the occult in her lyrics.

‘Horse and I’ is a great set-opener, a tale of village ceremony with a brilliantly atmospheric drum beat creating a sense of hooves thundering through the night, the chilling violin crescendo at the end adding to the sense of a strange nightmare place – the kind of dream you might have after watching cult 1973 film ‘The Wicker Man.’ It’s followed by ‘Sleep Alone’, and then ‘Wizard’, with its delicate melodic tune and Kate Bush overtones. Next comes ‘Bat’s Mouth’, and then ‘Glass’, the echoing vocals of the intro swelling into a majestically psychedelic chorus. The real crowd-pleaser, however, is ‘Daniel’, in which Khan’s tambourine-shaking dancing has more than a hint of pagan ritual about it.

Spectacle undoubtedly plays a huge part in Bat for Lashes’ stage presence, but not at the expense of vocal quality. Khan delivers an energetic performance but her voice doesn’t falter once; her singing combines perfectly with the gorgeous synth-pop feel of the music. Pop is definitely central to the Bat for Lashes aesthetic. In spite of the eerie beauty of much of the set, there’s still a lot of sweetness to the songs – ‘Priscilla’ in particular, which closes the encore, has a kind of childlike innocence.

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