Florence + The Machine - Manchester Arena
“Make your own Florence + The Machine album by letting an owl loose in a wind chime shop.” Credit to whoever sent that one around the internet. If the smartest, most compelling, most beautifully and fatally flawed artists are also lost enough in their absurd creations to appear faintly ridiculous, so be it. And good luck to ‘em. Do we not need our unhinged mavericks more than ever?
Florence yanks her baroque folk-pop out of the dark woods and into the enormodomes. A trawl around the UK’s least forgiving venues sees her pitch up in front of her biggest solo crowd to date: 19,000 tickets gone in minutes. Mid-song, she visibly bristles: “I can’t believe you’ve all come out to see just us. Last time we were here, we supported Pete Doherty.” (There are boos. Fame, eh? Fickle. Cruel. Undeniably amusing.)
The venue kinda gets in the way, it has to be said. If the scale at first seems appropriate, an involved floor and a slightly more polite seated area starts to highlight the imbalance of left-field crossing over to megastardom. At its most fevered, the place is a-bouncing but its takes the big guns to kick it off. ‘Dog Days Are Over’, tonight’s first bona fide Old Favourite, hits dead centre, teed up by the arms-aloft gospel of ‘Shake It Out’. With no shying away from the mood pieces, the likes of ‘Between Two Lungs’, ‘Breaking Down’ and ‘Leave My Body’ make for curious programming, the set’s ebb and flow seemingly punctuating the rise and fall of the atmosphere. All told, minor quibbles but you gotta step back and listen – that’s the price for getting to release the bats and throw those arms.
If the setlist is predictable (all of Ceremonials minus ‘Lover To Lover’ and ‘Seven Devils’), with ‘Drumming Song’ the only stand-out casualty, the performance is an inch away from revelatory. She may still offer profuse thanks between songs, jaw genuinely dropping at the response, but that English reserve is jettisoned every time the music starts. Arriving on stage in a black and silver cape, later removed to reveal a contoured one-piece more Tron than pagan pop mistress, Flo gets into character. She delivers her dizzying, increasingly personal repertoire as the barefoot confessor, hair as severly scraped back as the album cover, Rosetti’s Lizzie Siddall in a catsuit. If her ‘Florence’ really is a tad ridiculous, and much of the whirl/twirl/leap! of her stage moves are more VI form dance student than Darcey Bussel, so much the better, us believers say. Inflamed high jinks beats poise and pose every time, right?
There’s an irresistible and earthy razzmatazz to this most showy of shows. The Machine take it up several notches and a good few kilowatts above the manual’s recommendations. They’re bolstered by uncommonly loud sound, mixed to bass-heavy perfection, with – critically - Tom’s harp always in view. With Ceremonials staking hefty claims, here’s honed live performance catching sight of deepening song craft in its rear view. The run-in is as up-and-down as the preceding set but we go where we're led. Who’d have though ‘No Light, No Light’, an apparently featureless stomp, would heat up into a euphoric caudron of tribal bpm? ‘You Got The Love’ is a flail of retro beats re-imagined, its extended vocal-only intro a delicious tease.
We drift out into the chill, heated to the core: ‘Never Let Me Go’ is our hyper-ballad comedown. Bathed in dimmed blue light, it's like dawn is upon us. Reflect for an age on the giddy rush of the previous 90 minutes and marvel at the the rise of Florence as it continues apace. The crowds grow in line with her vision. And this is only round two. Imagine what devilry might come when she ponders the dark ocean of possibilities and slips into ‘Mmm...what does this button do?’ mode.