This was a gig I’d been hugely anticipating. It’s fair to say that I’m one of Natasha’s biggest fans; I’d been waiting eagerly for the tracks from the new album to trickle out one by one. It was way back in 2009 since I’d seen Bat For Lashes. All of which seemed to pale into insignificance when we got to the venue, Manchester Cathedral, and saw just how keen certain of our friends were. Mike G was number ONE in the queue no less, with Cal standing next to him. Respect to Mike though, he’s a pro photographer, and given that there was going to be no photo-pit tonight, wasn’t going to make any assumptions about his right to be at the front of the crowd. More friends were near the front of the queue. We dutifully went to the back, and stood in our rightful places for those who could only just get there in time for doors. We got let in, mere minutes late, and, as so often happens, most of those that had been queuing in front of us for over an hour in the cold bogged off somewhere, so we simply wandered up close to the stage. It was fair to say that the first two rows (with the exception of two guys) were taken up by ‘us lot’, which made for a festive atmosphere, a school trip.
I’d been pretty keen to see the support, that being Charlotte Hatherley’s new band Sylver Tongue. They came on, they were impressive, but didn’t grab me by the nuts I’m sorry to say. I really like Charlotte, and of course she was in Natasha’s band last time round. I desperately wanted to take to the band; I’m sure we’ve all ‘tried to like’ something. Sadly, maybe my expensive acoustic earplugs were making me too analytical, but certainly with the volume knocked back a bit, I was channelling Miami Sound Machine of all things. Oh well, can’t win ’em all.
Much seems to have been made of Bat For Lashes ‘new’ direction, more straight music, less ‘stage magyck’. Certainly, there were no harps to be seen on stage, that’s a fact. But the setlist, which we could see if we peered upside down, certainly bore no evidence of any major historical revisionism.
We kicked off with ‘Lillies’, which is off the new record, but let’s just stick with this whole construct for a minute. I’ve read much of what has been written, and still, the first words we hear tonight are about all the “trees falling still” and the pouring of “thistle milk” whilst begging thunder bolts to “mark” her. For sure, there was no harp on the stage, no hippy headbands in sight, neither face paint nor feathers, but only a moment later we were straight back to ‘What’s A Girl To Do’ anyway. Please, this is not some cynical jibe, more I think an observation that Natasha’s ‘straight’ still veers darn close to most people’s faerie dust. She can’t fight her nature and we love her all the more for it.
Despite having seen her, what, five times before, this was the first time I had been up close, and that was a thrill, to see all the artifice constructed mere feet away from my nosy beak.
What of the performance? Natasha had been beset by ‘tour flu’ that day. The news had leaked by way of across-the-board interview cancellations, and announcements via twitter that the concert would ‘definitely happen’. Tonight, at face value, she was all her usual sweeping vocals, 100% lovely, all charm. She herself made reference to being ill before she started into ‘Laura’, saying it was the trickiest to get through with her voice, and ‘phew’ when it was over. She played two consecutive days in Manchester and friends who went back the next night pronounced the second gig to be very much more ‘out there’, restraints cut free. In retrospect, I guess we probably had the reined in version, and that was somehow reflected (literally) by the stage being bathed all night in brown light. And yet, I’m so glad I witnessed this, a concert that was just the tiniest bit like those comfortable silences between friends. No need for drama, the songs spoke up, the vulnerability in Natasha’s vocals came though in droves. And we all had a damn good sing-along to ‘Daniel’ at the end.