It’s questionable whether any other breakthrough act this year has achieved the same level of critical praise as has been bestowed on Florence & the Machine. The hype had already reached fever pitch months before her debut effort, Lungs, hit the shelves and in an all too rare occurrence, the recording actually lived-up to expectation. Commercial success was also instant, with the album reaching the number two position in both the Irish and UK charts – only being held off the top spot by Michael Jackson. A flurry of award nominations soon followed, resulting in the London songstress and her group winning a Brit Award and an MTV Europe Music Award for ‘Best UK & Ireland New Act’. And as music publications everywhere are tallying their ‘album of the year’ votes, Lungs is making regular appearances. Heck, it was even named one of State’s Albums of the Decade.
Live shows have long been good yardsticks with which to measure success and it’s certainly the case tonight; tickets for Florence & the Machine’s Olympia performance sold out well in advance. There’s a palpable sense of anticipation emanating from the audience as they await the group’s arrival on stage and it’s hard not to get caught up in it all; the initial cheers as the band members take their places and the unadulterated shouts of joy as the fans spy the slender figure of Florence Welch emerging from the darkness – readily distinguishable by that shock of auburn hair.
Starting out with the tenuous, melancholic ‘My Boy Builds Coffins’, Welch’s hypnotic qualities as a frontwoman become immediately obvious. All eyes are fixed on her as she slowly dances across the stage, while her pitch-perfect voice carries clearly above the music. That same voice delivers rousing renditions of songs like ‘Kiss With a Fist’, ‘Drumming Song’ and ‘Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up)’ – the soaring vocals and steady beat encouraging the crowd to find a use for their dancing shoes. Audience interaction is integral to Welch’s on-stage antics and she displays it to great effect during ‘Dog Days are Over’. Breaking the song down, she persuades everyone to sit down before she counts in the band to commence the chorus and implores everyone to jump.
Almost inevitably, the set ends with ‘You’ve Got the Love’. Yes, it may be a cover version but Welch and her accomplices certainly make it their own tonight and it’s the perfect way in which to conclude their Irish visit. For ones with a solitary album under their belts, Florence & the Machine have staged a show full of powerful, engaging songs. This alone has made the concert an unforgettable one. But experiencing the strength, passion and near-flawlessness of the performance makes it a lot more than that; it’s also been a little bit special.
Photos by Sean Conroy.