On Thursday night, roughly 9,000 Florence and the Machine fans watched as the band’s frontwoman, Florence Welch, somehow sprinted from the stage to the back of the arena in about three seconds flat.
It was a faster pace than most arena-sized superstars could ever meet, even when they strap on harnesses and fling themselves across the rafters on a zipline. And the fact that Florence did it the old-fashioned way, by breaking into a full-blown gallop, red mane unfurling like a cape behind her, in bare feet and flowing gown, was all the proof I needed that she is, indeed, a supreme being worthy of a stadium’s worth of admiration.
They say that starpower is something that can’t be taught; that artists who were born to perform have the innate ability to appear larger than life. This is absolutely true of the majestic Welch, who pranced — pranced! — effortlessly across the stage, accentuated her massive vocal ascensions with dramatic arm movements, and managed to tell the audience that we all had love inside of us that we needed to share with the world with unabashed sincerity. Swathed in a sheer blue ruffled gown reminiscent of the one Beyoncé wears while smashing out car windows in Lemonade, Florence remained the focal point throughout the entirety of her set. It was impossible to look anywhere else.
It was my first time seeing Florence and the Machine, and to be honest I’d been putting it off because I didn’t know if I could tolerate being sung at with such high intensity for an extended period of time. One of Florence’s defining characteristics is her voice’s epicness, and that epicness was certainly on full display in belters like “Dog Days are Over,” “Mother,” and “Ship to Wreck.” Even when singing softer songs or flying off a vocal trapeze up to a higher register, her voice is still so loud that it almost seems inhuman. But she clearly knows the difference between being grandiose and being overtly showy; her boldest moments felt empowering instead of exhausting, and the outstretched hands that continually reached toward her like flowers bending into the sunlight illustrated the power she wielded over the crowd.
Of course it helped that Florence looked like she was having so much fun. Toward the beginning of the set, she demanded that people get up onto each other’s shoulders, giving the floor of the arena a ’70s rock show vibe, and later on she asked people to take an article of clothing off and “whip it over your head… for peace!” Throngs of people dutifully complied, showering the stage with sweat-soaked t-shirts that a stagehand literally had to sweep into the wings with a giant broom. To add to the throwback feel, she asked everyone to put their phones away for the title track of her most recent album, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. I can’t recall the last show (aside from Prince) where I could look around and see that many people dialed into a performance.
Speaking of Prince, Florence also took a moment to pay a heartfelt tribute to our dearly beloved. Noting that she was visiting a place “where musical legends are made,” she dedicated the song “Cosmic Love” to Prince. “It’s a small song and it’s one of the first songs I ever wrote. I hope he hears it.” She looked upward and applauded the sky above. She didn’t need to say any more.
Opening the show was Grimes, who is still riding high on the success of the acclaimed Art Angels, her most cohesive yet adventurous album to date. It was quite surreal seeing Grimes translate her high-concept, masterfully produced dance-pop to an arena stage, and it was admirable that she maintained her position behind her keyboards and mixers, only hopping down onto the main stage to join her dancers when she had programmed enough effects to let the mix ride. It was the perfect antidote to a stadium circuit that is obsessed with flash and presentation and seems to view actual musical performance as an afterthought. When Grimes, a.k.a. songwriter, singer, and producer Claire Boucher, accidentally let loose a loud, shrieking synth scream between songs, it showed just how involved she was in creating every sound that emanated from the stage.
Which made it all the more impressive that she was chopping up her own production on the fly, creating drawn-out introductions to more anthemic bangers like “Genesis” and “Kill v. Maim,” all while transmitting her airy and acrobatic vocal melodies into the ether. Her dancers were fantastic, each interpreting their choreographed movements into their own style, and when Boucher bounded to the edge of the stage to join them, the crowd clearly fed off her frenetic energy. In her own perfectly imperfect way, she apologized to the crowd before playing “World Princess Part II” by saying, “This song is really f***ing hard to sing, so don’t judge me — but the soul is there, and that’s what matters.”
Photos by Nate Ryan