The opulent and slightly surreal setting of Somerset House could not be more perfect for the eccentric and offbeat stylings of Florence And The Machine. With a Number 1 album, a couple of BRIT awards, comparisons with Kate Bush (yes, really) and masses of critical acclaim heaped upon her 24-year-old shoulders, Florence Welch is justifiably buoyant as she floats on to the stage in a flowing cloud of white material.
There may be 20 people on the stage from harp to choir to a string quartet, not to mention a stuffed crow, but Florence flamboyantly maintains interest during opener Drumming Song, and throughout the night. Demonstrating her ability to command a wide range of emotions and styles, from slow-burning melancholy to upbeat raunch and swagger on successive songs, she exercises that unique, distinctive voice that could bring even an average song to life.
But ending tender, string-based demo Swimming Song with her distinctive, loud semi-yodel serves to remind that while it is clearly a joyful, heartfelt call to the ears of the screaming crowd, it may well grate on others. Florence’s passion, commitment and talent tonight cannot be doubted though.
She makes much use of contrast and juxtaposition throughout her music and performance. Latest single Cosmic Love, a beautiful, twinkling torch song, sees the singer bathed in blue light before Blinding sees her engulfed in a lightning storm of manically flickering strobes. She bangs her drum, a strikingly bold yet angelic presence at the front of the stage, reflecting the song’s conflicting ethereal nature and heavy, churning guitar chords.
In her confident yet strangely shy way, Florence then tells the crowd, “This is one of our last gigs in London for a while because we’ve got to go away and make some new songs,” before airing Strangeness And Charm. It’s an epic and uplifting affair featuring waves of effected guitar and indicates Flo and co may well have the creative strength to be a fixture for some time yet.
A beautiful harp interlude from Tom Monger then leads into My Boy Builds Coffins before the string quartet comes to the fore for Candi Staton cover, You’ve Got The Love. It’s such a successful cover because it retains the spirit of the original while genuinely building upon it to create something new. The soft and hushed intro builds into something loud and raucous as the beats kick in and the crowd sings along. Energy levels stay at their peak for Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up), which sees Florence whirling around the stage like a playful child.
The encore is introduced by the tale behind her dress. Having been discovered in the flood-damaged basement of a shop it was repaired just for this gig, says Florence of the flowing, floating gown that is as individual and eccentric as she is. When it comes to the final song, Dog Days Are Over, the audience are given a lesson in jumping and the singer succeeds in getting the whole crowd leaping in time. And that is that, the end of a set rich in passion, spirit, soul and energy, Florence’s now torn dress a symbol of the infectiously wild exuberance of her performance.