Junction, Cambridge 13/4/09

Tonight is the night of the messy-haired females. Everywhere I look, there are teenage girls of every description, some bedecked in sequins and chiffon, some more casually dressed, but all with the same thing in common. Obviously coiffured yet messy hair. Just as well I couldn’t be arsed to brush mine properly then.

This styling also extends to main support, New York trio School of Seven Bells, who pride themselves on looking like a gang of students from the early ‘90’s, an apparently effortless slacker chic (apart from the keyboard player- she looked like a former housemate of mine who couldn’t get dressed without advice from her mother. True story). And they’re obviously too cool to speak either as they launch into their opening track with only a brief acknowledgement of their audience. Perhaps I’m just a bit old-fashioned but a charismatic stage presence often goes a long way to making a performance more enjoyable, a concept which SoSB don’t ever fully embrace on this occasion. Like Luscious Jackson with bigger electronics and dreamier vocals, whilst the sound is often potentially atmospheric, they end up falling a little short of entertaining. Which is a shame. In truth, I actually liked the songs, don’t get me wrong; uplifting electronic indie-pop, tracks like “Half asleep” and “Chain” are beautifully simple in melody and arrangement and ultimately listener friendly but, live, they suck. In fact, I became so bored and frustrated, I couldn’t honestly tell you much more, except that I should buy their record ‘Alpinisms’ and skip their live shows if I were you. There are plenty of opportunities for hand-claps in the privacy of your own home and you can make yourself comfortable while you’re participating.

There is, at least, a sense of magic and anticipation when Natasha Khan and her band take to the stage. The girls in the audience have now donned matching masquerade masks to add a touch of glamour to proceedings. After all, the figure crooning centre-stage is wearing what appears to be a large ruffled collar. Her hair is also slightly neater and, from the outset, her mix of kooky charm and intimate sensuality impress as much as Tori Amos or Bjork in terms of intrigue, so she is deserving of their glittery salute.
When Khan softly runs chimes through her fingers and gently howls somewhere in the distance, everything else follows like a soothing and mystical chant. Showcasing material from her new album, ‘Two suns’, it is clear that she is developing a sound that will become very much her own, a lilting folk vocal mingling with blasting technology, a sound for the future perhaps. However, the key word is certainly ‘developing’ and Natasha is but one step on a journey exploring and mastering her craft. Though she does generally hold attention with her imaginative fairytales of life as she knows it- particularly on the brooding “Glass” and a stripped-down version of single ‘Daniel’- the show does become a little bland in places, a distinct match of her contemporaries talent yet so far lacking in their charisma. And, as she is joined at the piano by Charlotte “from Ash” Hatherley, to create this subtly dramatic centrepiece to the set, somewhere at the front of the hushed audience, there is a rather camp-looking man with neon patterns painted on his cheeks who, hanging on her every word, nods his head in approval, leaving me questioning if Bat for Lashes are destined to be part of a current scene or if Natasha Khan is blazing a trail and leading music forward. We shall see.

Many thanks to Joe Aybak for getting stuck in Robin Hoods Bay and so subsequently letting me pose as him for the evening.

This review is in memory of my dear cat, Mr Bojangles- the life and soul of the party whose anarchic spirit will never be forgotten.

Words Anna C; pix Steve Bateman