Bat For Lashes casts a spell over London’s Southbank

Fusing dance and song, Natasha Khan returns with a captivating performance as part of Christine and The Queens’ Meltdown

For years, it’s been hard to really place Bat For Lashes. Not in a ‘I don’t get this music’ kind of way, but more the fact that Bat For Lashes (AKA Natasha Khan) has always created music that sits on the edge.

This edge, the ghostly line between art, dance, fairytale and ‘the mainstream’, is felt as soon as Khan takes the stage at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Dressed in pearls, gauze and feathers, she’s part pagan priestess, part music box ballerina. The performance begins with three new tracks written during lockdown. Inspired by motherhood and using a combination of dance and stage props (a large mirror captures Khan’s embodied movement and ribboned plaits in reverse) this opening features nothing more than lasers and Khan’s exquisite voice. No band. Nothing to take your attention away from this cosmos of movement and vocal melody.

And holy crap. Did we always know her voice was this good, or have we just never truly given Khan her due? Soaring, ethereal, Khan’s vocals are rich with promise and experience, like she’s drawing from some humming, fierce female energy deep within. It vibrates. It shimmers like a fish in a moonlit millpond.

A violinist joins her on-stage for ‘The Hunger’, the second single from 2019’s Lost Girls. “We never got to play these songs loud,” Khan tells the audience, who already sit enraptured in the palm of her outstretched hand. A wolfish howl bolstered by a responsive crowd opens ‘Horse And I’, the opening track from debut album Fur And Gold, and suddenly we’ve returned to Khan’s dark forests, wearing golden headdresses and walking alongside a sorceress-come-songwriter who’s in total command. ‘Deep Sea Diver’ (“I get to play a Steinway,” Khan says with a smile), comes before a stripped-back, (or “sexy”) version of ‘Daniel’. 

There is a moment when Khan breaks into a soulful chorus of ‘True Colours’ – the timeless Cyndi Lauper track that’s become synonymous with the LGBTQ community – when you can quite literally hear a pin drop in the auditorium, despite encouraging the crowd to “sing along”. Poignant and subtle, this celebration of love in every form lands beautifully. “It’s been the most nerve-wracking thing I’ve done so far,” Khan says, speaking of her new dance-led direction, and this vulnerability isn’t lost on the audience. We applaud. There are cries of support from the stalls. Khan looks genuinely moved. Standing in the smoky spotlights, it’s so unbelievably charming that a woman holding this much magic could feel any sense of doubt.

A staff is wielded for ‘Trophy’; Khan beating the stage like a mage. There are handclaps, more solo snare. The encore brings forth a wild and embodied performance of Two Suns (2009) opener ‘Glass’. But, of course, It’s ‘Laura’, the song about wild friends, wild nights and wild, wild love that brings the house down. Kate Bush. White witch. Titania. Joan of Arc. Siren bride. All the shades of female power are captured in Khan’s stage mirror. The audience weep and whoop, the June heat adding to the whole fever dream of this performance. In the words of Khan: “it’s time to get enchanted.” And for just under two hours, we were. Astonishing stuff.

Bat For Lashes is supporting Sigur Ros in Reading on July 2. Find Bat For Lashes tickets here.

Photo credits: Victor Frankowski