Khan played a set that not only reached through her five records but included cover versions of songs that played a formulative role in her development as an artist.
Let’s not forget that those of us shaped by ‘80s popular culture are in control of the zeitgeist. These are the people who came of age inspired by the original Star Wars trilogy, cried through E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial, thrilled at the advent of video games and had their minds altered by sound and vision courtesy of MTV. These are the people who pined with the careless lovers who ran along the beach in wistful sadness during Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer” video and mourned the death of their innocence when River Phoenix, a face of the generation, overdosed at the Viper Room. It’s no wonder shows such as “Stranger Things” are being created. Those who are in charge are trying to get back there. As they wade through middle-age, the Gen-Xers want nothing more than the return of their youth.
Though she looks much younger than 40, Natasha Khan also came of age during the ‘80s. Her latest album, Lost Girls, was inspired by a vampire movie with a similar name. During an intimate set at the Wonder Ballroom, Khan traced her career by performing and telling stories about the songs she released under the Bat for Lashes moniker.
Wearing a red lace dress, Khan played a 16-song, 90-minute set that not only reached through her five records but included cover versions of songs that played a formulative role in her development as an artist. Kicking off with “Kids in the Dark,” Khan frontloaded her set with six songs from Lost Girls. In between, she explained to us that in the intervening years since her last album, 2016’s The Bride, she relocated to Los Angeles, a place evocative of all the things that informed her childhood. A melancholy glow hangs over Lost Girls and while “Stranger Things” can often feel like a pastiche of all things ‘80s, many of Khan’s new songs sound like they could have come right from a John Hughes soundtrack.
Backed only by Laura Groves on synths, Khan moved from playing the keyboard to guitar, even pausing between songs to read selections from fiction she has written. The ‘80s hovered as snippets of Chaka Khan weaved in and out of her music. Khan captured Henley’s melancholy in her own version of “Boys of Summer” and then doubled down on the sadness with an outstanding performance of her own “Close Encounters.”
Though Khan did not play “What’s a Girl to Do?”, the single that put her on the indie music map, she did reach back to debut album, Fur and Gold, for “Horse and I.” The nearly full club responded with enthusiastic applause. She then finished the first set with a shiver-inducing take on “Laura,” the song that may be her crowning achievement.
After playing a solo version of “Moon and Moon” to kick off the encore, Khan finished the show with a pair of covers by women musicians that profoundly influenced her. First, she did a faithful rendering of Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work.” It’s appropriate because Bush’s DNA is obvious in Khan’s songwriter. She then ended show with an aching version of “I Drove All Night,” a song made popular by Cyndi Lauper. Though Khan, and anyone born in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s, will never be able to return to the innocence of those times, they will keep trying. As the final notes vanished into the darkness of the Wonder Ballroom, it is possible we were all there for a moment – children again, the whole world open and innocent, a time where a boy could fly across the moon on a bicycle, a place where even the vampires were beautiful, free and young forever, the waves of the Pacific crashing in the distance.