Belfast Telegraph

Bat for Lashes, Koko, London

By Kevin Harley

No need to dial 999 – she's OK. If Natasha Khan, aka Bat for Lashes, was robbed when she didn't win this year's Mercury Music Prize, larceny hasn't stilled her progress. The two sold-out gigs at Koko prove that the ex-nursery-school teacher's debut, Fur and Gold, is casting a pixie-pop spell over her fanbase, which includes Thom Yorke and Björk.

Bat's spectral mix of textured chamber-pop and avant-folk aims to conjure an atmosphere: on top of masks distributed at the entrance, the stage is a tree-decked, glittery winter wonderland, part-dreamscape, part-psychosexual grotto and part-appeal to the Jungian-at-heart childhood imagination's access to the universal consciousness (well, that sort of thing). It's a good fit for Bat's mantra-like incantations.

Her band has grown for the occasion, too. A string section bows and scrapes behind Khan, whose flowing black robes approximate queen-of-Hallowe'en chic. She proudly displays a new instrument of her own: an imperious, spirit-summoning "wizard stick", used to wallop the stage, Gandalf-style, on "Sarah".

That said, tonight the music doesn't always project, astrally or otherwise. A reticent sound mix and a certain politeness curtail some of the hinted-at emotional magic, leaving you feeling distanced rather than swept up with the visceral flurries of imagination.

The tingles are summoned, albeit in flashes. Khan makes a stripped-back entrance, her crooning backed only by fairy bells (or something like that), before a flick-knife bass and a death's-head piano summon up the totemic rumble of "Trophy", a trance-like tale of pagan portent and dark desire. Later, "I Saw a Light" channels rare, raw passions, Khan crying "Death in your arms" with a throaty roar.

Bat's songs either verge on the point of departure or tease at just-out-of-reach currents: a "bat-lightning heart" wants to fly on the spectral Spector-pop of "What's a Girl to Do"; "Sad Eyes" hints at desires that can't be fulfilled without self-destructing, and a cover of Tom Waits's "Lonely" transforms the original's gruff vulnerability into something hypnotic and intangible.

"Horse and I" is the set's centrepiece, playing like a signature tune as its invokes a dream journey into the unknown, swathed in heart-fluttering harpsichord. Who needs a Mercury when you've got a "mystic golden light" and a magic horse to lead the way? If tonight was a hint at what's to come, rather than the full trip in itself, it's still clear that Khan is going places, spreading just enough fairy dust to light the way.

Belfast Telegraph


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