"It's so hot!" Bat for Lashes multi-instrumentalist frontwoman Natasha Khan was sweating it out between songs en route to her piano stage left. "So are you!" yelled a girl in the crowd, breaking the silence and prompting waves of cheers and "wooooooh!" ejaculations.
VIDEO: Bat for Lashes, "Daniel" (live at the Paradise)
It was a signature moment for this show, which had been set for April before being postponed so that Khan and company could play Letterman instead. And if the crowd was enthusiastic, it was also reverent. Khan and her band emerged to a wall of cheers that was as quickly smothered in a mist of shushing, and the silence allowed her lone voice, drenched in echo and compression, to wail out the introduction of "Glass," the opening track of her new Two Suns (Astralwerks), with crystal clarity. The spell that she casts on her listeners is undeniable: the sold-out room was immobilized.
Once "Glass" kicked in, however, it became clear that nothing precious or pretentious was in store. Drummer Sarah Jones's set of ginormous timpani hinted at an impending rhythmic drubbing. Khan's growth since her debut, 2006's Fur and Gold, is evident in the way Two Suns indulges in tribal drumming, 808 beat snaps, and the kind of accompanying sound vistas that have critics flipping through thesauri for other ways to say "widescreen." The thundering percussion of "Glass" was a recurring motif, a potent counterpoint to Khan's otherworldly lyrical nods to wizards, crystal towers. and mystic golden lights.
Her voice attracts comparisons with manic-pixie-chick vocalists like Björk, Kate Bush, and Tori Amos. But watching her live, it was easier to connect her with older female folk artists like Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez — especially in the way her voice recalls Baez's unfashionable birdsong quiver. It all didn't come across as overbearing, thanks in part to The multi-instrumental inventiveness of Ben Christopher and Charlotte Hatherley. Amid lush clouds of synths and echoing vocals, the percussion toed the line between heavy-footed techno and a nearly tribal Luddite wallop, notably on the spacy mantra-pop standouts "The Wizard" and "Trophy."
For her part, Khan seemed both bemused and befuddled by the rapt attention pointed her way. After just 35 minutes, she announced, "This is the last song" — and with that we were enveloped in the astral jungle of "Pearl's Dream." When she returned for the requisite lengthy encore, she treated us to a solo voice-and-autoharp rendition of "Prescilla" before the rest of the band came out to atom-smash everyone into new-wave bliss with "Two Planets" and (big hit) "Daniel." It was a rare stateside glimpse of an official UK Cult Artist playing a Seminal US Mini-Tour. But I came away feeling that Khan's magnetic attraction to emotional extremes in musical form will be far better suited to the larger halls that will surely host her in the years to come.