The ethereal Bat For Lashes, both gloomy and sweet, seems like music more fit for late October than late September: envision blowing leaves, cloudy midnights, Halloween masks. But some things are good for all seasons, like frontwoman Natasha Khan’s cute-as-a-pagan-button face and silky, powerful voice, able to whisper like a Sarah McLachlan or soar in to Bjork-ish territories.
First up was Lewis And Clarke, a moody Pennsylvania band that drifts lazily between folk and post-rock, with a sighing cello as a centerpiece. For the Bowery show, only a core two members of this often protean ensemble were present, singer/songwriter Lou Rogai on guitar, backed up only by Eve Miller (of Rachel’s) on cello.
The sparse arrangement and lack of percussion left you feeling like something was missing from the sound, but the songs were soft and sad and plaintive, like a lyrical Rachel’s. The two on stage shared a real connection, the silent cellist stealing glances at her partner mid-song.
“That violin is off da hook!” shouted a music-loving gangsta from the back, whose lack of schooling in the differences between string instruments didn’t hinder his appreciation.
The same gangsta was also audibly demonstrative when Rogai announced that though he’s based in Scranton, PA, he was actually born in Brooklyn. “Brooklyn in the house!”
“Yeah. We’ll wrestle later,” said Rogai.
“No, actually we won’t.”
“Eve will, though. But she’s got a stick.” Eve brandishes her bow menacingly.
Then came Bat For Lashes, a bevy of British girls (four in all) lead by the haunting Pakistan-born Natasha Khan, all dressed in flowing shirts or leopard-print halters with headbands and bright necklaces. The violinist had a small stuffed sparrow on the end of her instrument. The violist was barefoot.
If anything, with her dark skin and soft features, Khan looked like a Welsh warrior-priestess, leading a band of latter-day druids. Like a smaller, sweeter Catherine Zeta-Jones. The music fits the part as well: lots of percussion, each person in the band playing at least two and upwards of four instruments. At one point Khan played nothing but a long spiraling staff that she beat into a hollow board.
Other instruments played by Khan: guitar, bass, travel xylophone, keyboard, (marimba), bells, tambourine, (squeezebox).
Midway through the set they played their single, the beautiful “What’s a Girl to Do?”, its video being a YouTube favorite and one of their biggest claims to fame in the States. For good reason: both the video and the song capture perfectly the haunting, dangerous emptiness that comes at the end of something, be it a night, a love, or a bike trail. BMX riders in animals masks optional.
Later was a cover of Tom Waits’ “Lonely”, and a version of “Sarah” even more energetic and full than the album version.
For encore they played a quiet song called “Moon + Moon”, with all the girls singing a gorgeous three-part harmony seemingly right out of the 50s. It made one wish they harmonized more often, and promises good things for the next album.