Written by Tara Williams
Photographed by Robbie Atkin
FLORENCE & THE MACHINE
It will be ten years this June since Florence and the Machine’s debut album Lungs graced the earth and my angsty teenage ears, forever changing my relationship with music and securing itself a permanent position within my soul. It came as no surprise to me that as Brisbane’s Riverstage crowd settled hushed under a moonlit sky, and the woman, the myth, the legend herself, entered the carefully architectured stage, a single joyous tear rolled down my cheek. I’m sure I’m not alone in this sentiment. One of many the wonderful moments I took away from the ‘High As Hope’ tour show is the vision of scanning the crowd and feeling united by the multiplicity of faces with the same joyous tears adorning their faces.
Florence Welch, draped in a sheer blue, full length lace gown appeared in a spotlight as if she had stepped directly out of a timelessly beautiful renaissance painting. Sweeping breezes catch her gown illuminating her enigmatic presence. The atmosphere is palpable as she opens with newbies June and Hunger during which she divulges many a personal sufferance, immediately captivating her audience with her harrowingly honest and pitch perfect vocals. She stands in perfect solidarity with the microphone, as if its stand extends directly to the earths core from which she draws her vital energy. The stillness is fleeting. Soon Welch is dancing barefoot in a loosely contemporary form. Bewitchingly reminiscent of a gentle leaf picked up in a swirl of wind, she sweeps effortlessly from one side of the stage to another. Every element of the show works in perfect harmony. From lighting to staging to sound production to synchronicity, all boxes were ticked. Notably, when Welch spoke of the music she referenced ‘us’ rather than ‘I’, perhaps a testament to the bands flawless cohesion. The show served as a visual representation to the dramatic and daring boldness of the sound. Her physical body acting as a flawlessly picturesque vessel for her message.
As the classic Between Two Lungs sparked a fire in Florence’s age-old fans, once again the entire space is silenced. All focus is turned to the trickling sound of the harp as the beginning of Only if For a Night settles gently over the crowd like a blanket waved by a familiar face over the bed you lay in. “It was oh so strange, and so surreal” Welch sings out unaccompanied. She was not wrong. The whole experience was inexplicably ethereal. It was like all the elements had met to create a perfect harmony. And there were several more moments of awe. A thunderous roar of clapping arose from the crowd, directed by Welch as she launched into one of her most groundbreaking tracks Dog Days Are Over. In a rare turn of events Welch took the opportunity of her fans unity to ask that all mobile phones be put away. In juxtaposition to the boldness of her regular performing tone, an ever so politely mousey voice she asks “If you see someone on their phone, just tap them on the shoulder and say ‘excuse me, could you please put your phone away we’re having an experience’ … or just say put your f-ing phone away!”. For the first time in a long time I saw a monumental number of people fixated on something, anything, other than a screen. Not one light.
Welch’s interaction with her crowd was not limited. She spoke tenderly and reverently in an ode to Patti Smith accompanying her powerhouse track Patricia, and touched tastefully on topics such as the repercussions of toxic masculinity and the importance of ‘love thy neighbour’ as she asked the crowd to embrace friends or strangers next to them. She paused to dash across the stage with the Pride Flag, and although given her profoundly bold stage presence, opened up with truths about her anxiety and aversion to having her picture taken and public speaking … as if we didn’t already lover her enough, now I just want to squeeze her and tell her everything is alright.
The rest of the show was carried to outstanding heights by tracks such as Ship To Wreck from 2015’s ‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful’ and from her latest album, ‘Sky Full of Song’, in which she bellows out “Hold me down I’m so tired now” in a way so cathartic I almost expected her to begin floating up from her spotlight. With High As Hope came many deeply personal confessions from Welch that are unmatched in earlier albums, and that peculiarly poignant yet positive energy permeated throughout the performance.
When the band first left the stage I felt a disappointment like when you drink the last two beers from your fridge and all you want is more. I felt cheated, robbed, I needed more, “C’mon man I’ll fix you up next week I swear”. I was like an addict, desperate for another hit. As a relief to many the band conformed to the age old ritual of the encore and Florence came back to bless us with a breathtakingly angelic vocal performance (despite her ongoing rigorous physical activity) of huge tracks Shake It Out and Big God. I may not believe in a ‘big God’ but I sure as hell believe in Florence Welch’s ability to make me cry tears of rapture for an entire show and beyond. It was truly a show I hope I never forget, a show that will leave a drumming noise inside my head.