Two words feature in any Bat for Lashes review. Kate Bush. There, done. As well as being more than fit to run at least some way in such shoes, Natasha Khan (for B4L is she) has created her own distinctively sensual world over three beguiling albums of goth-tinged electropop. That a Hounds of Love-style commercial breakthrough has so far eluded her, though, perhaps indicates how the options for mainstream female stars have narrowed since Bush’s heyday. The Haunted Man, primed for the task, fell 30 places in this week’s UK album chart after debuting at number six.
But numbers never tell the full story. Neither content to be a rock foghorn a la Florence + the Machine nor as comfortable as a clothes horse as Lana del Rey, Khan is not an act for bean counters but an artist for believers. Plenty of them were at this pulsating show, the first of two at the venue. Given space to do her mystic bodypopping before a fine four-piece band that included a cellist, Khan seemed both carefree and focused. In a floor-length, vertically striped black-and-white dress she looked half oracle, half humbug. Her singing was as impressive as I have ever heard it – often slightly reverbed, sometimes starkly direct.
The contrast between heady vocals and heavy bass that is so much part of Bat for Lashes’ DNA is all the more powerful live. From the opener, the declamatory “Lilies”, to the second encore, “Daniel”, a signature amalgam of the ominous and the ecstatic, what strikes you is the sheer tactility of the beats, then a tribal urge to dance. Yoking the primitivism of early PJ Harvey to seething synths, the playing had an intimacy akin to chamber music, in that each instrument spikily and dramatically held its own. The pin-drop moment was “Laura”, accompanied only by Ben Christophers on piano. Written with the co-author of Lana del Rey’s “Video Games”, it’s a song that so yearns to be a big hit that I’ve previously sensed it buckle under the strain. In X Factor parlance, Khan “owned it” here.
Her fortunes might hinge on the current single, “All Your Gold”, a tale of squandered emotional reserves that makes Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know”, whose chorus melody it may inadvertently echo, sound like kindergarten stuff. That’s for another time. This evening proved Bat for Lashes will always have a home among the faithful.
Tour continues until Nov 4; www.batforlashes.com