Florence Welch has come a very long way in a considerably short amount of time. I remember my friends at University obsessing about Flo and her machine four or so years ago when she was playing small venues and wondering what all the fuss was about and now she’s dominating huge concert halls and arenas and selling out a full three nights at London’s Ally Pally.
The Machine’s debut album Lungs became an international sensation and Florence + the Machine were soon one of the most sought after acts on the festival circuit. With the release of Ceremonials, Florence’s status as one of today’s most prominent musicians has been well and truly set in stone.
I was lucky enough to procure tickets for both the Thursday and Saturday night performances at Alexandra Palace, with the latter being broadcast live on BBC Radio 6 Music. The crowd was delightfully mixed, with the odd few donning long, floaty dresses complimented by lashings of auburn hair. The venue itself, though I’m used to seeing it serve as a racing ground for dirt bikes, is vast and simple, yet grand, perfectly suited to both her music and look. Plus, of course, she needs a huge stage to fit the entirety of the traveling Machine on – string section, choir, the whole shebang.
I was lucky to get in the third or fourth row, decidedly less cramped than the front row and without the ghastly shoulder and elbow crushing (I had all of that to come on Saturday night). Up first we had Spector, a five piece indie band. I quite liked their song ‘Friday Night’, but most of their other tracks had me a little bored and I found the lead singer, Frederick Macpherson, to be quite obnoxious and that put me off massively. Spector came across as ‘just another indie band’ for me with nothing much remarkable or exciting about them. Just not my cup of tea.
Following on from Spector, The Horrors took to the stage and ambled their way through a few choice tracks. Unfortunately, despite my excellent position, I could barely hear a word of what the lead singer was saying, but I was mesmerised by the guitarist’s talent and the bassist’s obscene dancing…
After another painful wait of 30 or so minutes (seriously, my feet were killing me, but it was the continuous reggae that made it unbearable) the curtain came down, the glorious mirrored stage was revealed and the Machine spilled out onto the stage. From behind a screen, Florence appears in a long black cape with hair scraped back Virginia Woolf style and ‘Only If For A Night’ descends upon the manic crowd of Ally Pally. ‘Only If For A Night’ was the first song that really took me on the new album and it was just even more powerful live, with an onslaught of booming drums and that voice…my God, that voice! Pure, faultless and not at all ‘screeching’ as some critics have accused.
Up next gave the first single, ‘What The Water Gave Me’, and everyone hummed and sang along with a look of wonderment in their eyes, with ‘Seven Devils’ doing an equally as great job pumping up the crowd. Simply breathtaking. She took a quick break to thank everyone for coming to see “us”. I find it endearing that at no point does Florence ever refer to herself solely, it’s always “us” or “we”.
‘Between Two Lungs’ was the first track from Lungs and you could really feel the difference in material and just how much Florence + The Machine have progressed since then, a much lighter feel overall, but still dark and haunting. ‘Cosmic Love’ was a personal favourite for me as I really love the song and it was great to be a part of such a mass sing-along, with the great lady herself leading the way.
Equally, ‘Shake It Out’ saw a great deal of singing along as its infectious beat and lyrics spilled out over the audience, but ‘Dog Days Are Over’ is the track that really stole the show. Such energy added to a song of already epic proportions. “I was wondering if we could do something together London…” ventured Florence, and with the whole crowd coiled like a Jack In A Box about to burst everyone began to jump up and down in an electric display of pure ecstasy.
Florence took time out at regular intervals quipping about her cat suit and making jokes with her Mum and Dad who were in the crowd. I kind of just wanted to give her a big hug, she seemed so meek and humbled, not at all like the diva that some have rumoured. She dedicated ‘Heartlines’ to her family, she said “I wrote this song when I was kind of thinking about touring, travelling and what ties you to home and family and the ones you love. Then I obviously added parts about animal entrails as I usually do. This one’s for my family. Not the bloody bits.” (not a word for word quote, obviously)
Keeping with the acoustic theme ‘Leave My Body’ followed starting off slow and gaining more and more power as it went on. I’ve always fancied it to be quite a sexy song, though I’ve no idea why as it’s clearly not meant to be. At this point, Flo ordered the men to raise up the women on their shoulders to celebrate International Women’s Day as she pelted out ‘Rabbit Heart’ (Raise It Up) and then ‘Spectrum’ sealed the deal. The crowd was still enraptured with elated faces and screaming for more and Florence and her main Machine (the choir and strings didn’t leave the stage) returned for an amazing encore of ‘All This & Heaven’, which was a cheery, heart-warming way to end, followed by a stomping performance of the all-encompassing ‘No Light No Light’ and forthcoming single ‘Never Let Me Go’
Florence + The Machine were on stage for just shy of two hours and offered a superb and constantly spine tingling performance just bursting with energy. Simply divine.