Show Review: Two Days with Florence & The Machine

by Jonathan Pirro on November 6, 2010

louder than sirens, louder than bells

louder than sirens, louder than bells (photo by Anna Garcia)

In the past two years, a number of new artists have suddenly sprung out of the woodwork of obscurity and made headlines and huge sales numbers with their debut records. The staying power of these acts is often questionable; the general musical mood of the public at large shifts so quickly, so often, that it is even more difficult than ever to ensure that one is not lost in the tide. In the wake of diminishing record sales, a band must tour to really gain their followers, and must, at every single show, captivate and amaze their audience, leaving no doubt of their staying power within their minds.

For someone like Florence Welch, this is absolutely no contest. She has a voice that can move mountains.

raise it up, raise it up! (Florence signs the Fame Wall at Ex'pression College)

raise it up, raise it up! (Florence signs the Fame Wall at Ex'pression College)

Before her official return to the Bay Area concert scene, Florence and two of her Machine bandmates, Tom Monger on harp and Rob Ackroyd on acoustic guitar, entreated a tiny group of her luckiest fans to a special acoustic performance at Ex’pression College’s Meyer Performance Hall. Despite emerging with a few timid glances across the room, and greeting the crowd with a delicate but brittle voice, Florence kicked off her short set with a soaring, absolutely massive performance of “Cosmic Love”, with each note of the chorus seeming to overwhelm the room with the awesome presence of her voice. A round of furious applause met the end of this number, and the trio proceded through three more songs — “Rabbit Heart”, “Between Two Lungs”, and “Dog Days Are Over” — before Florence took a great bow and disappeared off the tiny stage.

Contrasting the intimate, delicate nature of the Ex’pression Session was the gigantic show that the Fox Theater would offer the following evening. Kicking off the evening was the first of two L.A. bands; in this case, the duo of Hanni El Khatib and his drumming partner Nick Fleming-Yaryan, who blasted through 30 minutes’ worth of punky, bluesy rock under muted red lights. Obvious comparisons to the White Stripes and the Black Keys aside, the pair held their own onstage, with each song stretching the small aesthetic they had crafted together.

Hannah Hooper of Grouplove

Hannah Hooper of Grouplove (photo by Anna Garcia)

Grouplove, who were granted a 45-minute set a bit later, were a wonderful surprise that upped the ante on attempting to defy description. To compare them to MGMT, Modest Mouse, Violent Femmes, The Notwist, or Bright Eyes would be unjust, and still not give any clear idea to the breadth of their work, since they were all of those things and more. Wildly jubilant and animated onstage, the band offered a long set that ran the gamut from jolly, furious pop to sweeping post-rock, with a few country numbers and wailing stomp-fests to even things out. It is always wonderful to see an opening band that doesn’t let that label get them down, and Grouplove delivered beautifully.

Marvelous as Hanni El Khatib and Grouplove’s sets had been, the curtain parting and the earsplitting screams that followed were definite indication that, tonight, Florence & The Machine were in charge, and here to knock the attendees of the Fox Theater off of their feet. Dressed this time in a flowing white dress that was both ethereal and obscuring in nature, Florence began the set to life with a steady pounding on the tom drum that rested at the front of the stage, kicking off the night with a performance of “Drumming Song” that shook the walls of the Fox Theater in its intensity. This opening piece was a brilliant indicator of the evening to come: dazzling lights, a rich onstage sound, a backdrop of leaves and natural scenes that sparkled with every color of the rainbow, and Florence in the spotlight, dancing and leaping back and forth across the stage.

No doubt owing to her natural range that is more alto than soprano, Florence’s songs are always fuller and more majestic live, as she changes the notes and harmonies at a moment’s notice within the piece. Tonight was no exception, with songs like “Girl With One Eye” and “Howl” being filled with extra voice solos and delicate but commanding notes that stretched out and filled the theater from floor to ceiling. Each member of the Machine brought a new level to the sound that gave life to Florence’s voice, with the harp, guitar, and huge-sounding drums providing an intricate sonic backdrop that was not so much left behind as it was helping to bring every aspect of the music directly to the nearly 3,000 eager fans within the theater.

Despite rumors of illness that had surrounded her disappearance from a late-night gig at San Francisco’s cutting-edge-musical-haunt Popscene, Florence was wildly animated and radiant onstage. Besides her twirling dances across the room and undulating poses between songs, she spent several songs running and jumping across the stage, belting out her notes with an impressive fervor the entire time. She offered the crowd a warm smile and encouraging cheers as they sung along with her in “You’ve Got The Love”, and provided loud shouts and otherworldly shrieks to her newest composition, “Strangeness And Charm”. Even her rocking wails and onstage thrashings-about during “Kiss With A Fist”, however, did not come close to matching the dynamite enthusiasm that the audience provided for “Dog Days Are Over”, the final number of the night. With encouragement from Florence, every inch of the Fox Theater was leaping up and down in celebration as the final choruses of the song were played with incredible vigor and vitality, the band giving it their all as Florence closed the set of a magnificent performance.

Had I any idea what I would be in for at a Florence & The Machine show, I would have spent every inch of my energy to see them earlier this year for their debut Bay Area performance at the Mezzanine in downtown San Francisco. I am, by now, a broken record in saying this, but I was positively awestruck with the power of her voice. Hearing it on Lungs, her debut record, offers the listener a small perspective to the incredible depth and power that this woman possesses with each note she offers to the world. The expressions on the faces of the hundreds of concertgoers tonight were a clear indication that they had no idea how moved they would be; or, they had every inkling, and that was why this show — her second (or third, counting Thursday’s session at Ex’pression) Bay Area performance ever — sold every single seat in the Fox Theater over two months ago.

Florence & The Machine's setlist

Florence & The Machine's setlist

Photos by Jonathan Pirro (and Anna Garcia where specified).

Jonathan Pirro

Off-kilter multimedia enthusiast.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Fredannz November 6, 2010 at 9:41 am

GROUPLOVE + Florence = good things to come…..maybe Ed Sullivan Show?

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