LIVE: Bat for Lashes – Albert Hall, Manchester

This tour was advertised as a series of stripped back intimate performances. I was of course excited but couldn’t help but feel a tinge of disappointment that we would not get a full band show.

The gig opened with a set of songs from the new album Lost Girls, starting with ‘Kids in the Dark’ and followed by ‘The Hunger’, a personal favourite. The arrangement was crying out for that missing band, for the driving bass and percussion, without which the stripped back version lacked real depth. I’ll admit it took me a little while to get into it.

But from then on there was not another foot put wrong, other perhaps than the choice of last song, which I’ll come on to.

Latest single ‘Desert Man’, a song that gets better with every listen, followed soon after and raised the level way over those initial expectations.

There was no support band meaning an extended set from Bat for Lashes. The luxury of time gave her the space to perform on her terms and explore the music in a different way. An experimental mash-up of her song ‘Feel for You’ and Chaka Khan’s track of the same name for example, and the opportunity to indulge herself by sharing the background to the songs, experiences that inform it – from travels in California to childhood fantasies – and poetry and prose that she creates as part of the album making process. We felt like we were becoming her friend as she let us in to her life and these little worlds. As much as we’d like to believe it, we’re not her friend, but you can’t argue that she hadn’t achieved her aim of intimacy.

It was a brave choice to put herself in a vulnerable position in front of a more than usually captive and quiet audience.

Despite the comfort of expert backing from the hugely talented accompaniment from keyboardist and singer Laura, Natasha (BfL herself) was acutely aware of how exposed she was as a performer and spoke candidly about her fear several times. She had little to worry about.

It was a refreshing antidote to sit in revered silence rather than be stood with the near-constant crowd chatter that can plague some performances. Years ago I read a review of a Bat for Lashes gig where the writer stressed that her fans really, REALLY like her. In the church-like surrounds of Albert Hall it did come close to worship.

The songs that got the best reception were a cover of ‘Boys of Summer’ and, as she put it, her “golden oldies”. The build up to the refrain of ‘oo-ooh Laura, you’re more than a superstar’ was spine tingling. ‘Daniel’ too was especially moving.

 

More covers followed. The meat in the encore sandwich was a near-perfect cover of Kate Bush’s ‘This Woman’s Work’. Continuing to perform as she wished by finishing the night with Cyndi Lauper’s ‘I Drove All Night’, was arguably one cover too many. For me there were many more of her own songs left unplayed that would have made better closers. But she explained that every cover was chosen for what it meant to her, and she even looked close to tears on a couple of occasions. These songs were for her, not for me.

On the other hand, could this have been a clever move to leave us wanting more? I will live in hope that she will return soon with a full band (not too soon – I’m sure you’ll be happy with a break from me going on about her). For now, I, and many others in the congregation will be more than content. She’s more than a superstar in our eyes.

 

Words by James Spearing.

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