There’s a certain amount of intrinsic respect due when bands like Florence and the Machine – who could probably give selling out substantially larger venues a good go – choose artistic integrity over financial benefits and turn up in The Olympia instead. It’s one of those venues that, despite its size, seems intimate, like every member of the audience is within touching distance of the stage yet still able to flit away to the back bar to grab a top up. By booking two nights in a row here, Florence has opted to open her tour with a crowd-pleasing bang.
Before the main event, though, there’s the not insubstantial matter of heavily hyped support act The Drums to get through. The Brooklyn lads are portrayed in their promotional material as a bunch of scowling hard men. On stage, though, there’s an amusing contrast in their touch of camp, with lead singer Jonathon Pierce’s slurry vocals punctuated by flexing dance moves and flamboyant instrumental flicks. While the majority of Florence’s crowd responds tamely to The Drums strangely electronic-sounding indie (given the lack of anything but guitars and drums on stage), we can’t help being impressed by their energy, as well as the array of pop-edged indie-rock they’ve lined up for their up and coming summer debut.
There’s no doubting, though, that Florence Welch owns this stage. Tonight her impressive set up includes a six-piece orchestra tucked away in a Perspex box, while the stage backdrop looks not unlike your grandmother’s curtains. Florence performs like an actor at the front of a onrushing ship, flicking her hips and waving her arms, and somehow managing to look like her flowing white cape is in a wind tunnel, despite The Olympia’s still air. Florence once had a reputation as a somewhat shy performer, but tonight she sparkles under the spotlight, showing only the briefest hint of nerves at the end of a first airing of an epic seven-minute new track, a soaring, swirling effort called ‘Strangeness and Charm’.
It’s only a handful of tracks in when Florence tells us she’s decided to play -everything’, and it’s going to me -a long night’, which brings a massive cheer. With such a smash album behind her, tracks like -Howl’ and -Girl With One Eye’ prompt sing-alongs that fall only a touch short of modern day classics, like late comers -You’ve Got The Love’ (which has certainly revived Candi Staton’s already substantial profile) and the epic -Dog Days Are Over’. -Drumming Song’ is another highlight, featuring Florence head banging her way through her usual single-drum routine, while new single -Cosmic Love’ sees the backstage -curtains’ rise to reveal a glittering array of stars.
Florence’s on stage persona has developed no end. Her banter included a full -happy birthday’ for a lucky lady called Fiona down the front, and, despite often appearing almost artistically sedate, she did slip in some late crowd surfing and a brief interval atop The Olympia’s substantial speaker stacks, almost leaning against the lower set of boxes as she belted out the classics.
Amongst the organic, witchy ambience that seems to be Florence’s preferred on-stage style, the redhead’s a stand out star. An encore of the slightly lyrically disturbing -Kiss With A Fist’ and -Rabbit Heart’ rounded up a polished, confident performance that suggests that the -Cosmic Love’ tour is going to be yet another chapter in what’s becoming a -alternative pop takes over the world’ fairytale. On the evidence of tonight, Florence is a worthy queen.
Photos by James Goulden