Following a short detour into the folk-noir exotica of Sexwitch, Natasha Khan is back on familiar ground with her fourth album soon to be released, performing in her home town of Brighton, and wearing a long and flowing blood red dress, barefoot 'n' all.
It's only her third show in the UK, previewing the new album, The Bride, which is not due for release for another six weeks. "That's why I'm a bit nervous tonight," she says. "I love this church, and I want everyone to love it too. You all look beautiful," as if she IS the bride at her wedding, the happiest day of her life. Although, of course, it is somewhat part of a choreographed routine, turning what is ostensibly a gig, into a piece of pure theatre.
In fact, the show began with her walking towards the stage, along the aisle, with a bouquet in hand, and wearing a veil, drumming up much anticipation for this new alter-ego and album, which begins appropriately enough with 'I Do'. It's the beginning of an album that marks a more stripped back sound, a little less textured than her normally expansive (and sometimes over-wrought) affairs, played along by her new band that features just three members along with Khan.
Performing most of the album, and in the order they appear on The Bride, the vast majority get to hear for the first time the poignant 'Joe's Dream' (Khan sounding a little Bjork-like), the spooky groove of 'In God's House' and the sad 'Honeymooning Alone', which Khan says, by way of introduction, concerns the untimely death of the groom, causing her to speed away on a journey of discovery. The premise can seem a little over-the-top, a little bit hammy maybe, not helped by the fact that 'Close Encounters' is, according to Khan, about making love to the deceased, but her voice is as clear as a bell, and sung alone except for some underlying orchestral synths, and hitting the high notes with ease, as can also be heard on the mini-krautrock grooves of 'Sunday Love', a track that displays the eclecticism of The Bride, but one which generally flows rather than jars.
Khan then picks up the guitar for the slowly swelling and angry lament of 'Never Forgive The Angels', while turning her hand to the piano for the unfussy and earthly balladry of 'If I Knew', before finishing off with the rather more optimistic, if still musically bleak sounding, 'I Will Love Again'.
With the new material delivered and roundly applauded by a full house, the second half of the show is marked by Khan saying we will now be rewarded with some songs that people will know, as she visibly releases the built-up tension within her, able to fully enjoy herself now that the main part for the job is done. And so we are treated to songs such as 'Laura', a stripped back re-imagining of 'Horse & I' (which she tells us was written in her flat in Brighton, based on a dream), the 60's melodrama of 'What's A Girl To Do', and a country-noir take on 'Sleep Alone', Khan really letting go, elegantly moving around the stage, like a ballet dancer in a trance, before finishing off with 'Daniel', just harpsichord-like keys and vocals providing a moving end.
Tonight is a neat balance between the new and old, expertly demarcated in two halves, but really the beginning of a new chapter for this exceptional artist and, much like the Big Day itself, she turns her back on the audience before throwing the bouquet over her shoulder, thus (hopefully) eliminating the superstitious curse that can bedevil a wedding or two. And the day is won.