It’s hard to remember back to early 2008, when Florence Welch was peddling Girls Aloud and Cold War Kids covers and testing out early ramshackle versions of her own material during those first formative shows. Fast forward to 2010, and she’s officially the UK’s biggest female solo star: she’s won a BRIT, collaborated with Lord Dizzee, contributed a song to the new ‘Twilight’ flick, and debut album ‘Lungs’ hasn’t been lodged from the Top 10 for nearly a year. Pretty good for a ginger from Camberwell.
Although ‘Hurricane Drunk’ is mysteriously absent considering the amount of pints being splashed around in the throng, the setlist is pretty much a rejig of the ‘Lungs’ tracklisting – no big surprise, seeing as it’s her only longplayer. Two new songs are introduced, and first impressions suggest that ‘Strangeness & Charm’, which continues down the ethereal dance-diva route she could totally own, is a keeper; ‘Swimming’ is pretty enough but sounds merely like a lost B-side from the ‘Lungs’ sessions. As nice as it is to be treated to newies though, the Florence fans want the hits and they’re in abundance.
Against a backdrop of flowers and hanging birdcages, Florence whirls around like a 21st Century flame-haired Kate Bush, delivering the beatific wonders that have brought her great acclaim. ‘Drumming Song’ is a primal crowd-pleaser, ‘Cosmic Love’ makes us all see stars, and ‘Girl with One Eye’s dark cautionary tale probably shouldn’t – but does – inspire a mass crowd sing-along. A double-whammy of her best song ‘Dog Days Are Over’ (handclaps a-go-go) and the riotous ‘Kiss With a Fist’, which sees Flo banging the shit out of a drum like a demented harpy, prepare us for the big finish; a stripped-down ‘You’ve Got the Love’ also deserves a gold star, with Florence’s emotional vocal soaring over a string-soaked backing and evoking a special kind of bliss.
The potential to fulfil the role of naysayer and dismiss Florence is often tempting, simply because there are so many more accomplished females in her field. However, unlike Bjork, Tori, even more recent stars like Natasha Khan, Florence is still a relative newborn – ‘Lungs’ is, of course, her debut and it’s not her fault it’s still causing shockwaves from the fringes to the mainstream. If tonight’s showing is anything to go by, ‘Lungs’ will be a mere stepping stone into a career that will continue to blossom. The sacrificial brimstone of set closer ‘Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)’ transforms into something euphoric and triumphant, and it’s a perfect goodbye to both tonight and the first chapter in Florence and her Machine’s story.
Words: Luke McNaney
Photos: Lee Allen