If you've read any of the earlier posts in this blog you've probably realized by now that I'm a big fan of music. I enjoy it for the places that it takes me, the way it can make me move, the way it makes me feel, the memories that it stirs up, and a thousand more reasons. Music is magical in my mind, and being able to see it performed live, seeing it's creation in the moment, I feel like that's a magical and transcendent experience.
Continuing that train of thought, I've always believed that there are some artists who feel the same way that I do, not just about making their own music, but in their enjoyment of other people's work, the songs and musicians that influenced and meant something to them. I've always thought that some artists seem like they're fans of music too, and they listen to music and feel the same way as me, reveling in the stories and worlds that can be made in a great song, closing their eyes and immersing themselves in all of the wonder of an awesome record.
I've always been drawn to the artists who feel like fans, and I often feel an additional appreciation for their work as a result. For a long time I've felt like Natasha Khan from Bat for Lashes is one of those artists that revels in the sheer joy of music, and that feeling was pretty much confirmed for me when I saw her at the Phoenix on February 22nd 2020.
My interest in Bat for Lashes began with their cover of "A
Forest" by The Cure back in 2008. Like many Cure fans that song is one of my personal favorites from the band, capturing their entire musical ideal all wrapped up in a single track. And I guess I saw another fan
in Khan's decision to cover it. The Bat for Lashes version is really great, a slightly more delicate and ethereal approach to the song that adds strings and a nice drum fill, and it's a fine example of my long standing belief that a well written song can
translate into good music whatever form it's presented in. Add in the immense talent and style of an artist like Natasha Khan, and you're bound to get an excellent cover.
Since then I've maintained an interest in Bat for Lashes' music. That delicate and ethereal quality that initially appealed to me on "A Forest" runs throughout Khan's work, and I've enjoyed checking out her albums as they were released, always curious to hear what she was doing. I saw her open for Depeche Mode on the Delta Machine tour and that was a great show, but I'll admit there's a certain intimacy to her music that wasn't as easily translatable in such a large venue. I enjoyed her set, but I knew that I'd rather see her play in a smaller space where I could immerse myself in the mood more easily with fewer distractions. And a few years later when she announced a show at the Phoenix I made sure I got a ticket so I could do just that.
I'm happy to say that her show at the Phoenix was exactly what I had hoped for, exactly what I wanted it to be. Khan delivered an intimate and engaging set that really captured the essence of her work, performing stripped down versions of songs that allowed her voice and her stories to stand out in even greater focus. It was a great evening, a set drawing largely from her latest album "Lost Girls" along with a number of fan favorites and covers thrown in, including a song by Kate Bush which especially bears noting because anybody that covers Kate Bush is pretty brave to try and pretty talented to succeed. Natasha Khan is both.
But as much as I enjoyed hearing Bat for Lashes perform "This Woman's Work", it was another one of those covers that stands out in my mind as the highlight of the evening, the moment that really made the concert for me. Around halfway through the set Khan told a story about how when she was growing up, she and her family would listen to music and dance in the kitchen to the next song, and then she did a stripped down piano, synth, and vocal version of "The Boys of Summer" by Don Henley.
And it was magical.
Henley's original track has a certain pathos to it, a feeling of loss and regret, but in performing it at the Phoenix Khan was able to bring a greater sense of nostalgia and wonder to it, a celebration of the song itself and the moments where it had brought her closer to her loved ones, transcending the song's original intent and making it into something more. The magic and beauty of the song as she performed it wasn't just in the lyrics and it's original intent, it was about what she brought to it and the memories that it had for her. She was a fan singing a song that she loved and it showed in a way that really resonated with me. I realize you might believe that I'm just projecting my own thoughts on her performance here but I don't think that I am, I really do feel that Natasha Khan is just as much a music fan as she is an artist, and I think that her being a fan informs and inspires her artistry to greater heights.
Bat for Lashes' cover that evening connected with me in a way that defined that show in my mind, creating a memory and appreciation informed and heightened by her own experiences with the song, and if that's not the work of a music fan then I don't know what else is. Seeing Bat for Lashes play "The Boys of Summer" was the moment that made a good show into a great show for me, and I will always remember it as magical and beautiful, and most of all the work of a true music fan...