The UK singer-songwriter never fails to bring a touch of dramatic flair to the stage.
With the summer heat breaking long enough for the audience to enjoy some long-awaited breezes and a gorgeous sunset, the setting for the evening’s show ahead was perfect. If it weren’t already clear, the venue in question was the Sidney Myer Music Bowl – a dream venue for many artists to reach when the opportunity of a Melbourne show is on the cards. And Florence + The Machine were the act thousands were waiting eagerly to see.
Opening with ‘June’, Florence Welch’s energy and vocals demonstrated striking presence early; with a reputation that has long preceded her, Welch’s performance style wove between ethereal, vulnerable, charming and dramatic with flair. On stage, she’s like the Kate Bush of the 2000’s British indie wave, but when she addressed the audience in between songs, Welch spoke with almost porcelain-like fragility in amongst humour. Open about her anxieties and shyness, the night’s heroine was also quick to ensure the crowd that the show was an interactive one and we were to dance when we wanted, and to join in as much as possible.
The band’s latest album, High As Hope, marked a phenomenal return for Florence + The Machine. Live, the album was represented just as well as on record, with ‘Hunger’, ‘Patricia’ and ‘Big God’ proving highlights of the show. These moments also demonstrated the tight dynamic between the musicians on stage, with Loren Humphrey and Aku Orraca-Tetteh locking in smoothly on percussion, while Hazel Mill’s backing vocals should be commended as much as her work on keys.
For longtime fans of Florence + The Machine, their loyalty was well regarded, as prime Lungs cuts in ‘Between Two Lungs’, ‘Dog Days Are Over’ and ‘Cosmic Love’ were rolled out. Though I had thought ‘Drumming Song’ or even ‘Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)’ may have made an appearance, these older tracks were still delivered with the same level of high dynamism as they first were in 2009.
There’s no doubt that a big pull of Florence + The Machine’s live show is the way Welch interacts on stage and with the crowd. Barefoot, she lunged from one side of the stage to another, becoming captivated with the rhythms of the music, dancing and spinning around, almost as if the performance had taken her to another plane. When an artist gets to this level of their career, I wonder how much they still find themselves attached to these same songs night after night. It would seem that Welch and her band haven’t lost that intrinsic emotional connection that a song like ‘Only If For A Night’ or ‘Ship To Wreck’ can bring out.
The crowd’s response was kept high throughout, elevated when Welch left the stage near the end of the main set to run up to the back of the Bowl, clutching onto hands that stretched out desperately to be held, singing and smiling at faces who longed to be acknowledged. It’s a great performance technique, one that makes a crowd the size of Melbourne’s feel just that little more intimate – it’s also one that is a result of a show formula that has been incredibly well-honed over the last decade.
Watching men in their 40s and 50s react to the music like the flower crown-donning girls half their age a few rows down, put a smile on my face – this is one of the best things about experiencing live music in this kind of environment; watching how it hits different individuals in their own unique ways. This show was exemplary of the way music can strike in different ways, and when you’ve got a song like ‘Shake It Out’ bringing the experience to an end, one couldn’t ask for a more fitting swansong.
Highlight: ‘Hunger’ was an early example of Florence Welch’s sheer vocal strength, one that rarely faltered throughout the night.
Lowlight: There was no ‘You’ve Got The Love’!
Crowd Favourite: The all-in rendition of ‘Dog Days Are Over’; such a nostalgic moment for everyone who had Lungs soundtracking summer festival seasons.