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