Three nights before Halloween, the enchantment of this packed Bat for Lashes gig begins before the band even arrive. Always faithful to their kooky pastoral aesthetic, and now, after a successful debut album, Fur and Gold, able to spend money on it, the all-female fourpiece have dressed the stage as a weird woodland grotto. There’s a low-hanging moon, twisted trees with creepers that later light up and, raised above, a cobwebby curtain that could be the hem of Miss Havisham’s wedding gown.
Natasha Khan, the Brighton group’s alluring singer-songwriter, has come as Pocahontas, with batwing sleeves and a gold headband. Hailed as a style leader, her looks ensure she gets plenty of photo-shoots, but that’s not to detract from her talent. Her wonderfully realised tunes – stories of nocturnal trysts and strange goings-on – recall Kate Bush, Björk and a less jarring Joanna Newsom. Their witchcraft lies in marrying primitivism (brutishly simple drumbeats) and organic sophistication (a dusting of bells, handclaps, horns and strings). They sound like you have stumbled on something arcane and votive in a forest glade.
“Trophy” throbbed with a kind of belly-dance reverb; the harpsichord on “Horse and I” had a seesawing, fairytale gallop; and “What’s a Girl to Do” became a fractured siren song. “Sad Eyes”, a flickering solo vigil, proved how beautifully clear Khan’s voice is, but the set’s highlights, boosted by extra strings and brass, were “The Wizard” and “Sarah”. The former, torrid yet finely judged trip-hop, could recount Miranda from The Tempest finding a sexier father-figure in some dingly dell; the latter, reworked as an atavistic plea, whipped up a ceremonial climax as the amplified thuds of Khan’s
Native American stave (a souvenir from the Grand Canyon) became the bass track.
Khan is the tribal priestess, but one shouldn’t overlook her excellent handmaidens. Lizzy Carey, Abi Fry and Caroline Weeks switched adeptly between violins, keyboards, backing vocals, drums and guitars. In their tunics-and-tights get-up, they resembled the historical society of Pan’s People re-enacting medieval mystery plays. “Prescilla”, their very last and perhaps most anticipated song, wasn’t helped by the sound balance – its staccato rhythm marred by overloud brass – but that didn’t take the shine off an irresistible show of girl power.