Review: Florence + The Machine – 3Arena, Dublin
Florence Welch has one of those voices that you can identify immediately and her music is orchestral, lush and melodic but on her most recent album ‘High as Hope’ she takes what is more of a stripped back approach so I was keen to see how this would translate to the stage when she brought her tour to Dublin’s 3Arena.
Opening up the show with “June” the first track on the newest album and it sets the theme for the rest of the set with its confessional lyrics. Dressed in a gossamer dress she looks ethereal, like she has walked out of a Pre-Raphaelite painting. The opening bars of “Hunger” elicit a huge cheer from the crowd and the first singalong of the night ensues. Welch sings candidly about her battle with an eating disorder, drugs and the emptiness we all can feel and try to fill or deny. This is followed up by “Between Two Lungs” from her first album ‘Lungs’ which is now approaching its tenth year since release but the song sits well among her newer tracks.
When “Only If For A Night” from 2011’s ‘Ceremonials’ follows this it’s easy to hear the contrast with the newer pared down songs. ‘Queen of Peace’ from the 2015 album ‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful’ has shades of Kate Bush and on this Florence Welch spins and twirls dramatically around the stage barefoot. Four songs in and she begins to open up to the crowd in between songs, thanking us all for being here and confiding that although she spins and dances wildly she is ‘a little bit shy’ but she will try for us.
The old, somewhat boisterous Florence has gone and in her place is a sober, gently spoken woman opening up to her fans as she talks about her next song “South London Forever“, of underage drinking, partying and general malarkey. The song has a line ‘high on E and holding hands with someone I just met’ and in the spirit of this we are all encouraged to turn to the person on the right of us and hold hands. It is a cute moment, with people looking nervously at each other, breaking down barriers and making new friends. After this display of what she calls ‘collective consciousness‘ is “Patricia” a song about Patti Smith, one of the most influential women in music. That the two have a friendship is not surprising to me given their common thread of fusing music with poetry.
The familiar sound of the glockenspiel strikes up and it signals the beginning of “Dog Days Are Over,” one of Florence and the Machine’s biggest hits and don’t the crowd know it! Singing the first lines ‘Happiness hit her like a train on a track’ with such gusto Florence stopped to marvel, it became a high energy affair with her running around the stage, jumping, pirouetting with her red hair streaming and singing at the top of her lungs. Her newer songs offer less in the way of acrobatic singing and are more controlled, perhaps mirroring the change within the lady herself; getting sober, making amends and dealing with issues all figure heavily on ‘High as Hope’ so juxtaposed as they are within the set it shows her growth as both an artist and a person. On “Ship To Wreck” we are reminded of Welch’s ability to write a catchy pop song, with its addictive chorus it wouldn’t sound out of place on a Fleetwood Mac album. Throughout the set she is shy when speaking but transforms when singing into an almost otherworldly being possessed by song. “End of Love” is a beautiful ballad and exposes an even softer side of Welch’s beautiful voice as it fills the arena.
Preceding the next number with a story about writing it when hungover, when she was ‘a lot shoutier, and with no eyebrows’ she recounts how it has been around for ten years this year. As the unmistakeable twinkle of the harp is played she requests if we have a light to use it and all at once the arena becomes a sea of stars for “Cosmic Love“, provided by lit up mobile phones, which are usually my nemesis at gigs but this is so special I will give them a pass this time as they add to the moment, not distract. On “What Kind of Man” Florence takes to the audience from the stage and, at one point, runs past where I am standing before running headlong into the crowd, singing all the while. It’s easy to see why she has such an adoring legion of fans as she gets right up close and personal with them, shaking hands and even dons a flower crown belonging to a young girl. These are the moments that people always remember.
Leaving the stage to applause the house lights go dim, always a sign of an encore to come. Throughout the set I have been thinking of what songs I want to hear like “Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up)” and “Howl” so the anticipation builds until Florence and her 8 piece ‘Machine’ return back onstage. Welch curtsy the audience before thanking us profusely and starting into “Big God“, one of the standout tracks from ‘High As Hope’.
As she sings glitter falls from the ceiling onto us and she is back among the crowd again, holding hands, embracing fans and making special memories for them. The final song of the night is the uplifting “Shake It Out”, and giving us a note she encourages us again to sing along. Everyone sings along with such volume and joy, grabbing the last chance while they can. When the music stops she takes to the front row and signs tickets, hugs admirers and genuinely has time for her fans. The house lights come up and we all pile out into the cold, drizzly November night and the only negative was that the set wasn’t longer to hear all the things I wanted to, but it just gives Florence and her magical Machine a reason to come back and play again soon.