Florence + The Machine, Alexandra Palace, London

An innumerable throng of musicians and singers packed the stage on this, the first of three nights in north London from Florence + The Machine; the backing choir alone was around a dozen strong. The ensemble included a string section, two keyboard players, a guitarist, and a harpist. And yet for long periods this show was essentially about two things: drums and voices. It’s rare to see the tom-toms in a drum kit receive such a pounding, but here the drummer and the percussionist gave theirs a right good walloping. Over the top of this, south London-born singer and frontwoman Florence Welch’s voice soared and hollered, while the choir added layers and texture. Comparisons have been made between Welch and Kate Bush, but this was much more in the style of Siouxsie and the Banshees – pounding rhythms, dramatic, heroic vocals. It was elemental, and it was terrific.

Thanks to last year’s second album, Ceremonials, Florence + The Machine now have a well-stocked reservoir of songs, sufficient to sustain them through a 90-minute show. This one ebbed and flowed, from the slow-build glory of “Shake It Out” and “Dog Days Are Over” to the pulsing beauty of “Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up)”, but it never sagged. Her eminently singalong-able choruses, hymns in the key of hope, struck a chord with the youngish, predominantly female crowd.

Visually, the show had an early 20th-century vibe. The set was a sleek art deco affair, decorated with projected arts-and-craftsy patterns, while Welch herself swooped and prowled in a cape and a shiny one-piece in which she resembled a sort of Schiaparelli-clad toreador-Catwoman. Her rich red hair, meanwhile, was arranged in a style popular among female members of the Bloomsbury Group.

One of the chief pleasures of this show lay in witnessing a singer who took such palpable joy from performing and who smiled such big, genuine smiles. Welch was convulsed by the thunderous rumble of the rhythm section, jumping and stretching and swirling sensuously to the beat. She also took pleasure, though not in a narcissistic way, in the sound of her own voice, relishing its remarkable range and its textures and timbres. Feeding off the energy of her excitable following, she was clearly having the time of her life.


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