Monday, April 27th, 2009
Bat For Lashes and Lewis & Clarke at The Mod Club in Toronto
Frank YangThe most beautiful day of the year so far turned into one of the foulest just in time for the early-evening start of Bat For Lashes’ Saturday night date at the Mod Club, the first for this leg of their North American tour in support of their much-heralded new album Two Suns. A more ambitious writer might try to draw some parallel between the dramatic weather shift and the themes of duality that run through the new record – I’ll just blame a high pressure system surrounded by low pressure systems and get on with it.
Rather surprisingly, support for this tour was Pennsylvanians Lewis & Clarke – surprising because they were also support the last time Bat For Lashes came to town in October 2007, and you don’t often see acts getting taken out as support twice. And their last time out couldn’t have been the most pleasant for the band either, since my recollections were the duo, as they were playing as at the time, had a poor time of trying to be heard over the chatty and inattentive audience (those of us up front notwithstanding). I also remarked at the time that maybe a full band would have had been more successful at getting peoples’ attention. Apparently bandleader Lou Rogal took my advice because the Lewis & Clarke that showed up this time was five members deep, including a drummer and string section. They delivered a set of four (maybe five) songs over 35 minutes, all of the slow and thoughtful chamber-folk variety, and while unquestionably pretty, it was all quite same-y. But at least this time, the audience was much more receptive – or at least polite. Lewis & Clarke will release a new EP Light Time on May 12.
Also rejigged significantly from last time was Bat For Lashes, the band. Whereas the troupe that visited in 2007 was a drummer-less all-female multi-instrumentalist quartet, this one had more defined musical roles and was slightly more co-ed, with Ben Christophers on keys, New Young Pony Club’s Sarah Jones on drums and the divine Charlotte Hatherley on pretty much everything. Oh, and also Natasha Khan – she whose voice, vision and songs ARE Bat For Lashes.
And as beguiling as she is on record, she’s equally charismatic on stage. She set the bar high for the show by leading with Two Suns opener “Glass”, the finest showcase for her soaring vocals, but didn’t let things lag a bit through the 70-minute set. Splitting material fairly evenly between Suns and Fur & Gold, Khan crafted a spellbinding performance that despite the rich visual presentation, didn’t rely on theatrics to rivet – rich with atmosphere and mystery, the songs were more than enough. It’s hard to pick highlights from a show really had no let-downs, but Fur singles “Prescilla” and “What’s A Girl To Do” naturally got the biggest response and single “Daniel” even got aired twice – early on, reimagined in skeletal, autoharp-led form and as the encore closer as “(Big) Daniel” (so noted on the set list), complete with the huge synths of the album version and deliciously Cure-ish guitars. Grand finale, indeed.
It’s impossible to overstate how much the new band configuration has improved their live show, which was hardly wanting in the first place. In particular, the drums, thundering and tribal, gave things a vitality that really took things to another level and Hatherley’s versatility was also put to good use, as she switched off between guitar, bass, keys, accordion and percussion in addition to providing backing vocals. For lack of a better way of putting it, Bat For Lashes v2 are just much more powerful. Though I did miss seeing the rain stick/staff of power from last time.
As for Khan, it’s remarkable how effortlessly she manages to indulge her more out-there creative impulses – her musical world is inhabited by wizards, knights and creatures of fantasy – while seeming utterly grounded, friendly and without airs. With a penchant for costumes and with stage decorations consisting of all manner of dime-store kitsch like Virgin Mary statues and ladies legs table lamps, she obviously doesn’t take things all that seriously but there’s no whiff of irony to be found, either. She makes wolf howls in her songs, for goodness sake, but also cracks jokes and at one point, looked up to see who was calling to her when an audience member yelled, “Natasha!”. Utterly charming.
Though you might think the eccentric nature of Bat For Lashes would be sufficient to consign them to cult band status – not that there’s anything wrong with that – but the fact that this show was not only sold out but with people desperately looking for tickets seems to imply that they’re bound for bigger things. But even so, even if within a year you’re seeing Bat For Lashes in venues holding thousands, I have a feeling that if you holler “Natasha!” during a quiet moment between songs, she’ll still look up and go, “yes?”.
Photos: Bat For Lashes, Lewis & Clarke @ The Mod Club – April 25, 2009
MP3: Bat For Lashes – “Glass” (live)
MP3: Bat For Lashes – “I’m On Fire”
MP3: Lewis & Clarke – “Petrified Forest”
MP3: Lewis & Clarke – “Before It Breaks You”
Stream: Lewis & Clarke / Light Time
Video: Bat For Lashes – “Daniel”
Video: Bat for Lashes – “Whats A Girl To Do”
Video: Bat for Lashes – “Prescilla”
MySpace: Bat For Lashes
MySpace: Lewis & Clarke
Interview talks to Lily Allen, who has a newish video. Kinda regret not seeing her last week, enjoying her new one It’s Not Me, It’s You more than I’d expected. Hope her vague promises to retire are false.
Video: Lily Allen – “Not Fair”
The first track from Stuart Murdoch’s God Help The Girl – I’m not sure whether to call it a band, project, play, or what – is now up for grabs and shock, it sounds a LOT like Belle & Sebastian. Which is to say it sounds wonderful. The album is out June 23.
Drowned In Sound gets Adam Franklin to comment on the whole phenomenon/idea of “shoegaze”. Short version, he doesn’t think much of it but it’s an entertaining read. Franklin is supporting The Church on their Summer North American tour, which has a stop at the Ottawa Bluesfest on July 11 but so far hasn’t extended to include a Toronto date.
Fans of XTC psych-pop alter-egos The Dukes Of Stratosphear should check out these two podcasts wherein Andy Partridge reminisces with producer John Leckie about the recording of 25 O’Clock and Psionic Psunspot, both of which were reissued in deluxe form last week.
A double-shot of Leonard Cohen docs for you – courtesy of the National Film Board, the 1965 documentary Ladies And Gentlemen… Mr Leonard Cohen and over at Pitchfork, the 2009 live concert film Leonard Cohen: Live In London. And apropos of nothing, whilst digging around IMDB I found that Lenny guest-starred in an episode of Miami Vice in 1986 playing a villain named Francois Zolan. I didn’t think it possible, but I think Cohen just got that much more awesome in my eyes. He plays Copps Coliseum on May 19.
MP3: Obits – “Pine On”
Eagles Of Death Metal are at the Kool Haus on August 2, tickets $27.50.