From the moment Florence + the Machine entered the arena, a wave of awe and disbelief could be felt, even from long-time fans who had mentioned to me they had seen her many times before. The beautifully expansive biomorphic wooden set and pastel-coloured lights, complementing Florence Welch’s signature red hair and pale complexion, were just part of what made this show so strikingly seamless. Welch’s confidence, paired with humility and a bond with her audience, accomplished what few artists are able to do: make us feel like we’re in an intimate space though we’re seated among thousands.
Welch and her highly accomplished eight-piece band were notably versatile, even vocally backing her in complex harmonies throughout the show. Composed of a violinist, two keyboard players, two percussionists, a guitarist, bassist, and harpist – a mainstay instrument in her music – Florence’s graciousness extended to her audience as well as her beloved band, taking a moment mid-show to sing happy birthday to her harpist. Unlike the often-muffled sound of stadium productions, I was impressed by the purity and clarity achieved by the band.
Even more impressive was their intuitive first-hand with their frontwoman, as she’s often known for her tireless performances. Leaping off the stage at one point, her band was unwavering as she made her way to the back of the arena to sing “Delilah,” while video screens showed flabbergasted fans, amazed at their luck.
With a reputation for playing barefoot and having recently taken to wearing long, sheer vintage gowns which emphasize her height, she appeared angelic and statuesque. However, there was no mistaking her painfully defiant nature especially singing “Oh Patricia” off her latest album, High as Hope. Written about her long-time idol, rocker and writer Patti Smith, it showcased the sharp juxtaposition of vulnerability and almost punk-inspired rawness which makes Welch so compelling as a songwriter and a performer.
She made sure to disclaimer one part in the song, saying it referred to toxic masculinity, then joked, “but I don’t think there’s much toxic masculinity at a Florence + the Machine show.” Adding that she had told Smith herself about the song, Smith replied, “Every time you sing it, I’m with you.” In the song’s simple but powerfully relevant lyric “I believe her,” Welch raised her fist in protest to which fans throughout the arena who weren’t already standing, stood up for and cheered. In the wake of the Kavanaugh hearings, the #metoo movement, and a host of women’s rights currently being debated again, this part of the show touched fans beyond their fandom. Saying, “My heart hurts on a daily basis, every day is a new heart break,” Welch quickly added that it’s important that fans momentarily put away their phones, embrace, connect, and “take care of one another.”
Marking a decade-long career so far and entering her early 30s now, the setlist was bookended by themes of both turmoil and healing. Singing primarily off of her previous release, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, as well as her new album, hit singles “Shake it Out” and “Dog Days” were also a staple in the setlist, but her audience was just as eager for her newer material. In “End of Love” and “South London”, off High as Hope, she shared her adoration for hometown of Camberwell. Relaying a certain nostalgia as well as reflecting on the “messy” years from her teens to late twenties, her candidness was more than welcomed. Despite feeling homesick, “Canada was one of the first to embrace us,” she said, thanking both her newer and long-time listeners.
Though Welch has been compared to music veterans of the sixties and seventies who famously fought for change within the moral compass of the mainstream, there’s a refreshing modernity in her music. Taking themes of inclusivity and acceptance even further, Welch’s music is relevant as ever, reflecting the current generation who, rather than taking sides, finds liberation in a continuum of exploration in identities and ideologies.
Though Welch’s plight for hope could easily be misconstrued for naiveté by today’s disenchanted or world-weary youth, it’s clearly manifested itself beyond her songwriting, perhaps most noticeable in her audience, diverse in age, gender, and identity—indelibly significant as it is hopeful.
Florence + the Machine finish up their 2018 North American tour in Minneapolis on Oct. 20.