Fresh off not winning the Mercury Prize (which is basically like winning the Mercury Prize, ie. Damon Albarn), Natasha Khan hit the Bowery Ballroom stage last night with her all-female band. There were sequin-string headbands, leopard jumpsuits, black suede boots. Everything you need for a night of classy-trashy occult fun, and when they first came out I smiled and thought of the sirens in Homer's Odyssey (silly I know, but I'm confident it was the correct analogy). The four women on stage took the fun seriously though, as Bat For Lashes weaved their way through a relatively short set with plenty of poise, confidence and emotional depth.
Channeling Kate Bush and sounding like a happier Tori Amos (at least for now), Khan commanded the audience the whole way through. There's little doubt she can draw a crowd with her magnetism, and she got attention from both the girls (squeals) and the guys (woofs) from the Bowery floor. She seems to enjoy it too, smiling and mostly giggling in between songs. The single "What's A Girl To Do" came early and was clearly the crowd favorite. "The Wizard" and "Trophy" were also highlights. The stunner though was "Sad Eyes." Yeah, those lyrics could be better, but Khan just buried herself in her piano and went deep for that one.
Most of their songs on record translate better live; you gain a better sense of the complexity of the instrumentation when you actually see these musicians work it. Each one had no less than two instruments to juggle between, which may seem like a lot but when you consider that Bat For Lashes has no drummer, you begin to appreciate the band's understated percussive talents. Khan herself went from center mic to piano to Autoharp from song to song. Other band members shuffled through an inventory of flutes, violins, guitars, toms, and various tambourines. There was a large square plywood floor tom, which Khan struck with a stick cane during a couple songs for a nice touch of dramatic emphasis. I would love to see these girls stumble Goonies-style onto an attic filled with weird dusty instruments and just futz around all afternoon with them.
It's inevitable that you find your mind wandering during a Bat For Lashes show; the music just ships you off into a dreamscape. (As the show went on, I started to imagine the band playing in some thick forest somewhere; the moon getting brighter, and the sky getting darker. Eventually, deer, wild rabbits and owls come out of hiding, draw closer and prop themselves next to the band). I looked around at the crowd several times throughout the show and nearly everyone was spellbound. Some bands play for years and never get anywhere near that level of rapture. Khan and her band-mates went about it all effortlessly though. Not for a second did they seem like they weren't born to do this, with or without the headbands. Remember that part in Snow White where she starts casually singing and little by little all the forest animals take notice, come out and surround her? Well, it was kinda like that last night.
Photos by Gabriel Kuo