While I have been a big fan of Florence and the Machine since her debut album Lungs came out last fall, I didn’t watch a music video of hers until the day I was attending her show. Watching the video for “Dog Days are Over”, I got really excited. The video contains a leaping Florence, aliens, smoke of every color, a gospel choir and tribal dancers banging on congas. Any more elements and surely my head would have exploded. Great news for everyone: the live show is just as entertaining, even without the aliens.
Florence Welch and her five-member band sold out the 1,300-person, four-story, House of Blues in Chicago and I have a feeling the next time she rolls into town, the venue will be three times the size. Saying she has loyal fans is an understatement; it would require one to entirely redefine the word “loyal”. I thought for sure someone was going to fall off a balcony. Looking up from the ground level, the fury of outstretched arms and hands were so constant, they looked built into the woodwork. Incessant screams and cheers for Florence were so loud that she would frequently have to wait for them to secede in order for the rest of the audience to be able to hear her. Applause was so enduring that when she came back on the stage for the encore, she actually had to put her index finger to her lips to quiet the crowd. She said in a meek, British accent, “From backstage, we could feel the stage shaking. This is the best crowd we’ve had on tour yet.” That was only fuel for the fire.
When Florence initially walked onstage, her vibrant, fire red hair was shielded by a black, thick brimmed hat. She sported a solid black get-up, finishing the look with a black lace shawl. It draped around her so that when she would lift her arms, it fanned out like wings. During the song “Blinding”, she actually pulled the shawl over her head, singing the entire tune from under the lace. The set consisted of 12 of the 13 songs off of Lungs, substituting one song for an unreleased number named “Hardest of Hearts”. She opened the show with “Howl”, a song that combines drum percussion with clapping and opts for a harp instead of a guitar. To emphasize the tribal beat of the song, Florence had a single drumstick, used to wail on a snare drum.
Epitomizing her showmanship, the second song was “Kiss with a Fist”, a popular single from the album, to which the entire stage was utilized. She sang to each and every person in the venue, just in case they needed additional reasons to adore her. She spun and twirled, the strobe light punctuating each beat. The floorboards felt more like a trampoline. You literally had no choice but to bounce and dance along, the rumblings of the floor commanding your knees to relax and contract just so you wouldn’t fall over.
And, did I mention, the girl can sing? I mean really sing.
She can hit the high octaves, she can hold out the long notes. An example of this being “Between Two Lungs”, a simple song that contains a bass drum and a tambourine to showcase her far-reaching vocals. And if stage presence and vocal range aren’t enough, she completes the trifecta with memorable lyrics, “Between two lungs it was released / The breath that passed from you to me / It flew between us as we slept / It slipped from your mouth into mine it crept.”
The last song before the encore, “The Dog Days are Over”, had arguably the most boisterous crowd reaction. Before beginning the song, Florence called for a “group jump.” Think of what kids do on elevators before they hit the floor and that is what this 23-year-old had 1,300 people doing. As previously mentioned, the floor was already shaking without needing a thousand people doing a giant jump in unison. My friend and I looked at one another, trading weary glances, and then shrugging. I guess there are worse ways to go out. Additional crowd participation was required for the last song of the night “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)”. Welch had the crowd take over the background vocals, shouting the three basic words “raise it up” every time she would lift her arm.
It’s only a matter of time before Florence and the Machine blows up here in the U.S. She already won the British Critics Choice Award for Best Album of 2009 and can be heard on soundtracks of numerous popular TV shows and movies. Her sound is too unique, too haunting and too indescribable for it not to catch on.