Bat For Lashes are back after Khan’s fabulous adventures in Sexwitch, and it’s a lovely return

It’s not often that a gig is just like a wedding. We’ve all been invited to the ceremony, but not the reception – that’s just for friends and family. And they’ve come all dressed up with hats, fascinators and gowns. To emphasise that it really is a marriage we’re watching, the still and video cameras are all pointing down the aisle to the back of the chapel as the intro tape turns from peaceful chanting to weird distorted noise.

Sure enough, Natasha Khan – the heart and soul of Bat For Lashes – walks down the aisle towards the band on stage, wearing a red wedding dress and black veil. She steps on stage and performs ‘I Do’, playing harp on an omnichord and hitting high notes impeccably, while her guitarist/bassist plays his instrument with a bow. “It’s so nice to have so many people at my wedding,Khan says, explaining that she will play most of her forthcoming album, ‘The Bride’, followed by “some treats”.

She picks up electric guitar for ‘Joe’s Dream’, rhymes face and wedding lace, and plays against drums that start with a single bass beat, build, then stop. The complex rhythms of ‘In God’s House’ prompt Khan to strike flamenco poses as she successfully pushes her vocal range to extremes. Her veil comes off for ‘Honeymooning Alone’, in which the central character, the bride, has to flee the church alone in the honeymoon car, as her lover is dead; she’s “pissed off, quite frankly”. The dark story telling is thoroughly David Lynch.

Synth notes intrude into the haunting women’s grief of ‘Sunday Love’ and Khan again plays guitar on ‘Never Forgive The Angels’, dedicated to her friend Becky. It’s warped west country folk, blended with indigenous native American mysticism. If her stripped-back three piece band, especially the keyboard/guitar player, can’t take their eyes of Khan, imagine how rapt the audience is, sitting in pews. The bride’s story goes extra-terrestrial for ‘Close Encounters’ (“some say my lover is a pale green light”) as Khan reinvents folk storytelling yet again, to a heartbeat drum and the bowed guitar.

Khan takes to the piano by herself for ‘If I knew’, but fills the old chapel with octaves of range on the keyboard and in her voice. She doesn’t play the whole album, because she wants to leave some surprises, “Sorry mum, I’m not playing your favourite.” So the last track from ‘The Bride’ is ‘I Will Love Again’, which has difficult vocals, even for Khan, whooshing guitar and elastic bass.

The encore treats start with the spellbinding ‘Laura’ followed by Karen Carpenter’s ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’ (which she re-starts after a bum note on the piano). She makes it her own, hitting incredible highs, after joking that she was going to do Lionel Richie’s ‘Dancing On The Ceiling’. A monster drum sound and more flamenco posturing have the crowd jiggling on their pews for ‘What’s A Girl To Do’.

‘Horse and I’, the first song on debut album ‘Fur and Gold’, is stripped down to Khan on guitar, electronic drum pad percussion and harpsichord keyboard. She relaxes enough to take in her beautiful surroundings, gasping at the chapel’s illuminated rose window and huge pulpit behind her, before the beautifully romantic ‘Marilyn’ adds to the night’s glittering five-star performance. Crediting her thinned-down band, she throws her bouquet into the congregation. “My mother told me,” she sings in the dark and sexily witchy ‘Sleep Alone’, shaking a maraca against thudding synth bass. “It’s really nice to be back,” are her last sweet words before a bare-bones, no-drums, tear-inducing ‘Daniel’. Bat For Lashes are back after Khan’s fabulous adventures in Sexwitch, and it’s a lovely return.

This Bat For Lashes article was written by Ian Bourne, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Zoe Anderson.

Bat For Lashes - Union Chapel, London (16th May 2016) – LIVE REVIEW

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