The blood curdling collective scream of 10,000 women as the lights went out forecasted the imminent arrival of our British flame-haired siren; and her dramatic entrance did not disappoint as she appeared from behind a translucent curtain, launching into ‘Only If For A Night.’
When describing the start of her set as launching, it’s more of a description of her voice, as Florence Welch’s vocal chords are mammoth. Towering over the crowd, she elongates a note at the end of the chorus so loud and powerful, you feel like you need to change position in your seat. It is no exaggeration that with the size of the speakers inside Rod Laver Arena, you can feel her voice inside your entire body.
Introducing herself and ‘the machine’, she looks like a badly dressed drag queen with a black (velvet?) cloak highlighting how pale the poor girl is. She thanks Australia for being one of the first countries to jump on the now overloaded bandwagon and even does a pretty good job at faking her shock at the size of the crowd (…as if that time spent sound checking had been done with her eyes shut).
In a lovely surprise, ‘Between Two Lungs’ is aired, one of the few tracks by Florence that doesn’t try to blow your hair back with vocal acrobatics, it is quietly understated and all the more beautiful for it. ‘Cosmic Love’ is stunning and the lighting designer does an amazing job replicating the heartbeat percussion as the arena fell momentarily into darkness.
It was quite the spectacle and it is clear that Florence has a flair for the dramatic, breaking into a piano solo a’la the Leo Zero Remix before dragging out the bridge to build her final chorus into a powerful crescendo – with the four horsemen of the apocalypse providing the drums.
Unsurprisingly, Flo’s performance and music throughout the night were faultless; it was the unfortunate ‘Fox FM’ moments that let her down.
Florence’s music for the most part is very serious, she has specifically tried to market herself more as Kate Bush-artisté than Beyoncé-pop star, so when these two things conflict – it’s quite jarring.
Stopping the concert to tell people on the floor to get on each others’ shoulders, reading out banners in the crowd and getting everyone to practice singing parts of songs is all a bit Lady Gaga. But even Gaga would be cooler than some of these gimmicks. It’s a gig, just play your music. If people want to get on their boyfriends’ shoulders or sing-along they will, but don’t give us the “this is the part of the concert where you…” routine, the experience should feel unique for the audience, not make them feel like they are part of a dress rehearsal for a musical.
‘Rabbit Heart’, ‘Seven Devils’ and ‘Heartlines’ see the nine-piece band at their most forceful, with the harpist given full reign to pluck the shit out of those strings. If you told me the guy had four arms, I’d believe you. At times he threatened to steal Flo’s spotlight.
The concert finishes with the recognisable twin chords of ‘Dog Days Are Over’ cantering in, prompting the crowd to erupt into a frenzy of sweaty bangs and choruses of “We Love You Florence!” that can be hear audibly over the band.
Her signature anthem is dragged out with hand-clapped breakdowns, extra choruses, a’cappellas – the lot. It is the ‘double whopper with extra cheese’ of finishes; and nine minutes later, with her back to the crowd, arching her body in a crucifix position as a wind machine blows her whispy black number ethereally; she closes as dramatically as she begun.
Welch may love Neko Case, but she’s not Neko Case. Neko never sold 100,000 albums in one week. This was a gig with a script, performed entirely on cue. Returning for an impassioned version of ‘Never Let Me Go’, her most recent single. Florence then shocked the audience by announcing that her final track would be ‘No Light, No Light.’
Though arguably the strongest track in her canon and a suitable way to finish her concert, it was more what she hadn’t played that had the collective knickers of the audience in a twist. Shockingly, admirably, strangely – ‘You’ve Got The Love’ was not played. To put this in mainstream terminology, its the equivalent of Coldplay not playing ‘Yellow.’
It’s clear as the house lights go up that a few teeny boppers would have traded those five extra minutes of ‘Dog Days Are Over’ to hear her most successful single performed live. But this was a statement, in the next few years Florence could become one of the world’s biggest pop stars or one of its most talented artists; and after a surprisingly unpredictable end to a magnificent performance – she knows which road she is going to take.
- Chris Lewis