How can we miss her if she won’t go away? Less than a week after she closed her 2015 festival run in grand style at the Electric Picnic (and with a Belfast show the night before), Florence + The Machine are back as the indoor leg of How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful tour rolls into action. What may have seemed like a foolhardy booking has obviously come good, with the arena comfortably full. Perhaps it should come as no surprise, as Florence Welch has become one of those artists who has transcended her original or expected fanbase. Indeed, from where we’re sitting, we doubt if many of those here tonight were to be found in a Co Laois field a few days previously.
It’s lucky if they weren’t, as this is exactly the same show trimmed down to fit arenas. That reduction in scale is what strikes you from the off. Having witnessed so many shows here that take the artist to the audience via walkways and the like, it’s a bit of a surprise to find tonight’s action so hemmed in. The band are playing as a tight unit, close to the front of the stage, meaning that the star of the show is restricted to running from side to side like an overwound Ozzy Osbourne, with occasional forays down to the floor and front barrier. In an age when Taylor Swift can fly up to the balcony on a spinning stage, it feels quaintly old fashioned.
Then again, Florence is more than a little old time herself. Her performance and stage persona draws in elements of David Bowie, Maddy Prior, Mick Jagger, a bit of Elvis and even a touch of Joyce Grenfell. While it’s hard to believe that someone who has been at this level for a while can still be surprised by the reaction she receives, there does still seem to be an element of wonder about her as she gazes into the darkness. If there is a hangover from the months of outdoor activity (and following that Glastonbury triumph has to be hard), she’s not showing it and is working damn hard to make sure the audience don’t feel it either.
She just about gets away with it. Although this isn’t the same as the communal Electric Picnic experience, it’s a pretty good attempt at replicating it. Drawing heavily on the decent new album, the set sprinkles the hits throughout and is delivered by a fantastic band that cover all the bases of the studio sound. They give ‘Rabbit Heart’ an extra brass assisted bounce, kick hard on ‘What Kind Of Man’ and rescue ‘Spectrum’ from Calvin Harris, while ‘Cosmic Heart’ is stripped down to its bare bones and is all the more beautiful for it.
Ultimately, though, everything falls on one pair of shoulders and it is Welch’s sheer force of personality that sees the night through. With practically no bells and whistles (aside from a couple of screens and some nice lighting touches) she makes us feel part of her world and builds a sense of community that manages to include both those at the front who are tossing items of clothing on stage and the ones who spend most of the evening watching the action through their tiny lit-up screens. It doesn’t matter, we’re all Florence’s children by the time she exalts us hug and kiss each other and jump like crazy during ‘Dog Days Are Over’, and it’s why she has become a star without losing the essence of who she is. Treasure her.
Florence photographed for State by Olga Kuzmenko