Thousands of fans converged on the sweeping hill that is Melbourne’s iconic Sidney Myer Music Bowl on Tuesday night to witness the manic majesty that is Florence Welch – live, where she ought to be seen.
Sydney outfit Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders greeted the early birds to a solid set. The group released their acclaimed fourth LP Playmates last year and have since toured Australia and overseas, including a slot at SXSW.
Frontman Ladder crooned in a deep and velvety baritone, Nick Cave-esque in his tone and imposing form. Steely-eyed and suited behind the mic like a broody businessman, Ladder’s 80s fuzz originals pleased a surprisingly attentive crowd. He leaned into the popcorn beats and synth interludes of ‘Her Hands’, and introduced his band in a voice just as deep and resonating as his singing. The romantic ‘To Keep And Be Kept’ was sung with accidental angry eyes, playing out the set with lingering finesse.
As the stage was being set for Florence, the crowd capacity looked close to bursting. Picnic rugs smothered the grassy hill, and bodies slammed themselves up against the back barrier. Burgundy pedestals were rolled on to the stage, and behind them, six plinths with rows of golden circular lights.
An 11 piece band emerged and the crowd went wild. As they strapped on their prospective instruments, a flame-haired figure danced out from behind them. Dressed head-to-toe in white – flared slacks and silky blouse – the bare-foot frontwoman of Florence + The Machine kicked off with Ceremonials opener, ‘What the Water Gave Me’.
The delicate piano, guitar riffs and choral harp pings came together in an intense crescendo, with the audience up on their feet (and they never sat down again). Heads were thrown back and the tribal chanting of “lay me down, let the only sound, be the overflow, pockets full of stones” became a soaring sing-a-long.
Petite and agile, with the face and physique of Linda McCartney and the poetic performance choreography of Kate Bush, Florence flew across the stage like an artistic acrobat against a backdrop of shimmering tiles. She skipped, bounced and spun with tremendous speed and elegance, like a music box ballerina or pull string fairy doll. Seeing her live, it would be impossible to accuse her of ever giving a half-hearted performance.
Her ethereal and thick operatic voice filled the amphitheatre, and even with all the dancing, her vibrato notes didn’t waver one bit. The latest album How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful filled the setlist with its anthem-like grace. ‘Queen of Peace’, ‘Ship to Wreck’ and ‘Third Eye’ (which we were asked politely to “remember with our eyes” iPhone free) got an early outing, and even with all their intensity and soft-pop magnificence, nothing could beat the goosebumps of ‘Delilah’. “It’s a different kind of danger, and the bells are ringing out,” she bellowed in her bright and resonant head voice. “Never knew I was a dancer, ‘till Delilah showed me how”. And a dancer she was. All night.
It’s not a Florence show without fan interaction, and on this occasion, she definitely didn’t disappoint. With a panicked security guard in tow during ‘Rabbit Heart’, she took a jog up to the barriers – which she stood on, teetering before a worshipping mob – and by the time ‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful’ came around, she was just getting warmed up. A female fan in the front (with a sigh that read ‘How Big, How Blue, How About A Hug?) got the response she’d only dreamed of when Florence invited her onstage for a lengthy cuddle. One little thing that was missing, however, was an introduction to her band, who unfortunately remained nameless for the entire show.
The feel-good belter ‘You’ve Got the Love’ followed thereafter, the power still in her voice matching the heavy instrumentation of the band. ‘Cosmic Love’ arrived acoustic, before the wildly expressive vocal gymnastics of ‘Shake It Out’ got the band back in the swing of things. It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back, so they shook him off!
Once again, Florence showed off the stamina of an athlete, and not even a massive stumble during ‘What Kind Of Man’ slowed her down. She got down into the audience, serenading and exorcising a young male fan in the stalls. A rousing rendition of ‘Dog Days Are Over’ closed the set, before ‘Mother’ and ‘Drumming Song’ closed the night.
Originality and artistry are the signs of a true performer, and Florence Welch has it and more in spades. Her 90 minute show was part performance and part workout, but always luscious and inclusive. Florence gave her absolute all for her audience, and her adoring fans gladly gave it all back.