FLORENCE + THE MA­CHINE ROYAL FES­TI­VAL HALL, LONDON TUES­DAY, 8 MAY, 2018 Florence Welch re­turns in spec­tac­u­lar style.

Q (UK) - - Q Review - RACHEL AROESTI

Florence Welch and co say it with flow­ers at their spec­tac­u­lar come­back gig.

Florence Welch walks on to the Royal Fes­ti­val Hall’s flower-strewn stage bare­foot, her pale pink dress meld­ing with her com­plex­ion, peachy lapels serv­ing as ex­ten­sions to her shaggy auburn hair. Be­hind her, other mem­bers of Florence + The Ma­chine are suited and booted. Over the next hour they’ll re­main rooted to their marks while Welch hops, skips, jumps and oc­ca­sion­ally gal­lops across the stage like a horse. Tonight, the 31- year-old has cast her­self as a onewoman sum­mer of love, in­tent on suf­fus­ing the stuffy con­fines of the con­cert hall with child­like lib­er­a­tion, naked hon­esty and bu­colic joy. That may en­tail lay­ing on the flower child shtick thickly, but what­ever Welch is do­ing to create her on­stage per­sona is work­ing. This kind of in­ti­mate set­ting is no longer Florence + The Ma­chine’s nat­u­ral home – in 2015 they stepped up to head­line Glas­ton­bury; later in May they will sup­port The Rolling Stones be­fore head­lin­ing a slew of fes­ti­vals across the globe – and it’s not hard to un­der­stand why the band have won such big gigs. Welch may have three al­bums of solid, oc­ca­sion­ally ma­jes­tic, ma­te­rial be­hind

Welch dances like no­body’s watch­ing and in do­ing so, en­sures ev­ery­body very much is.

her (the fourth, High As Hope, is be­ing pre­viewed this evening), but her live show el­e­vates it all into some­thing bril­liant and be­witch­ing. Welch’s porce­lain voice, which al­ter­nates be­tween ex­quis­ite pu­rity and a rock-hard bel­low, is partly re­spon­si­ble for that. So is her care­fully con­strued phys­i­cal­ity. Welch dances like no­body’s watch­ing and in do­ing so, she en­sures ev­ery­body very much is. She poses like she’s in a Pre-Raphaelite paint­ing, she wig­gles her fin­gers as if she’s cast­ing a spell, she ball­room dances with her­self, she busts moves that lie some­where be­tween fla­menco and the haka. Dur­ing the gospelflavoured Delilah she shoots through the crowd like an er­rant tod­dler, du­ti­ful se­cu­rity on her tail. In it­self, Welch’s mad­cap frol­ick­ing is rivet­ing, yet she’s do­ing more than just throw­ing crazy shapes. Much of the time she’s pro­vid­ing a tem­plate of how to lose your­self in her mu­sic: when she’s still, she of­ten closes her eyes to in­di­cate its trans­porta­tive power. She’s also plac­ing her­self in a tra­di­tion of fe­male musicians – from Joni Mitchell to Björk via Kate Bush and Ste­vie Nicks – who have both courted a rep­u­ta­tion for oth­er­worldly ec­cen­tric­ity and had it thrust upon them. The re­sult­ing archetype is a cross be­tween a mys­tic and a mad­woman, and Welch ex­ploits ev­ery cor­ner of it, from her in­tu­itive, spas­modic danc­ing, to the evo­ca­tions of witch­craft, to her kooky in­ter-song ban­ter, to melo­dra­matic lyrics, which draw on Chris­tian im­agery and Greek mythol­ogy in or­der to ser­vice her per­sonal drama. It would have been easy to let these an­tics over­shadow the songs them­selves, but Welch im­bues them all with an emo­tional sub­tlety that tran­scends her pos­tur­ing. Tracks from her last al­bum, 2015’ s How Big, How Blue, How Beau­ti­ful, that sounded flatly bom­bas­tic on record burst into life on­stage, and it’s hard not to get swept up in their heady feel­ing. Ship To Wreck is brighter and more bit­ter­sweet, What Kind Of Man is an­grier: an ex­er­cise in rock stomp that re­calls Joan Jett as much as Fleet­wood Mac. Early sin­gle Dog Days Are Over does sound slightly twee in com­par­i­son, but ev­ery­thing that has made Welch such a grat­i­fy­ing lyri­cist is there – the new takes on old clichés, the talk of self-de­struc­tion and the slog towards con­tent­ment. Re­cent sin­gle Hunger is Welch’s most beau­ti­ful evo­ca­tion of those themes to date and the way she grins through­out sug­gests she’s aware of its sig­nif­i­cance. In an In­sta­gram post, Welch de­scribed High As Hope as “a love let­ter to lone­li­ness”, and Hunger is an un­usu­ally straight-talk­ing his­tory of the ways she’s at­tempted to quell the clam­our of solitude – through di­et­ing, through drugs, through fame. Sim­i­larly promis­ing is new song Patricia, a trib­ute to Patti Smith that sports a se­lec­tion of vo­cal melodies and lines so densely packed with lyrics they re­sem­ble ru­n­away trains. To her­ald Welch’s encore, the Royal Fes­ti­val Hall’s enor­mous or­gan pumps out the open­ing notes of Shake It Out. The song, from 2011’ s Cer­e­mo­ni­als, is beloved enough that she’s able to twist the melodies into new shapes and still have the crowd sing along; some­thing she en­cour­ages by con­duct­ing them like an en­thu­si­as­tic mu­sic teacher. It’s a fit­ting bit of pan­tomime – this evening has been a les­son in the joy that comes from yield­ing to Welch’s fan­tas­ti­cal charms.

Flower power: Florence + The Ma­chine suf­fuse the Royal Fes­ti­val Hall with “bu­colic joy”.

Magic touch: Welch’s live show is both “bril­liant and be­witch­ing.”

Go­ing with the Flo: live at London’s Royal Fes­ti­val Hall, 8 May, 2018.

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