FLORENCE + THE MACHINE
Florence Welch put her foot in it last year when she fractured her metatarsal while twirling across a stage. Delayed by that freak injury, her tour is finally back on the road, and she brings down the curtain on her Ireland and UK tour with a frilly, florid and ferocious performance in Dublin.
Welch first stormed the charts in 2009, in the dog days of the landfill indie scene. With long red hair and vintage frocks, she was heralded as the second coming of the Pre-Raphaelites, the early 19th-century artists who were very much in favour of long red hair and vintage frocks. But it was more accurate to say she was a turbocharged update of Kate Bush.
Florence Welch has effortlessly bridged the divide between Millennials and Gen Z
More than a decade on, and after Bush’s Stranger Things revival, that thrills’n’frills sensibility is more zeitgeisty than ever. This is confirmed when Welch asks how many are attending their first Florence concert and half the audience roars in affirmation. She may have come unstuck leaping under the spotlight in London last year, but she has effortlessly bridged the divide between Millennials and Gen Z.
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Welch arrives looking like a cross between posh hippy – she was educated at one of London’s most exclusive schools – and a blow-dried version of the Lady of the Lake of Arthurian legend. Her dress is wispy and garlanded with flower motifs (a bespoke number by Philosophy di Lorenzo Serafini). That trademark auburn hair glows fiercely. The chin is high, as if she were born to this.
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Her audience is, if anything, even more hardcore than the singer. Up front, fans wear Midsommar-style garlands and hold her gaze obsessively. “Is it a cult?” jokes Florence. “What’s going on.”
Later she clambers down to commune with one particularly ardent admirer. Welch cradles the fan’s face and sings eye to eye. It’s a weird moment. The woman seems simultaneously slightly awkward (her face is practically in Florence’s armpit) and in the throes of an out-of-body experience.
Welch brings a haunting ferocity to her opening one-two of Heaven Is Here and King
Originally slated for the final week in November, the show has clearly been styled for the Christmas run-in. There’s a winter-wonderland vibe to the backdrop of white trees and what looks like fake snow.
Welch plays the role of Ghost of Christmas (Long) Past with relish. She brings a haunting ferocity to her opening one-two of Heaven Is Here and King. Both tracks are from Dance Fever, her 2022 album. Each is also a product of the lockdown, a period during which Welch took stock of her years in the spotlight while wondering if she would ever again stand in front of a packed arena.
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King, in particular, speaks to the introspection she went through. It’s about learning to live without the adoration of an audience and trying to remember who she was before the adulation. “I need my golden crown of sorrow,” she intones, “my bloody sword to swing.”
The band’s newer songs are more hit and miss. Free and Daffodil circle familiar themes of feeling adrift in a world that has suddenly shuddered to a halt
It’s an introspective start, suggesting she is still feeling her way back into the business of being a superstar. All doubts are, however, tossed aside with Ship to Wreck, a glorious banger from 2015 that surfs gales of melodrama. It’s quintessential Florence + the Machine – at its core a collaboration between Welch and her producer Isabella Summers – in that it features a big oomping chorus and a frantic harp solo.
Welch’s newer songs are more hit and miss. Free and Daffodil circle familiar themes of feeling adrift in a world that has suddenly shuddered to a halt. (“Sometimes I wonder if I should be medicated,” she sings on Free.) But she has hit upon a knockout with My Love. A romp around the disco maypole, it’s Florence does Donna Summer’s I Feel Love. It also reminds us that everything in life is better when sprayed in house piano.
Presumably as a gesture to the fans who have cheered along to the new tunes, the encore is packed with old favourites. Welch has revived the break-up ballad Never Let Me Go for the first time in 10 years and is visibly moved as she negotiates its wrenching lyrics. Finally, there is her through-the-looking-glass smash Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up). She sways and snarls as the track accelerates into its gory chorus (“Who is the lamb and who is the knife?”). After last year’s footloose accident, the girl who twirls has kicked on with aplomb.