Walking into the vast O2 Arena, it’s strange to think that only a few years ago, Florence Welch was singing in pubs in West London with the ‘Machine’ consisting of only one visibly drunk guitarist. How times have changed. With commercial success on both sides of the Atlantic, Florence and the Machine have become one of our juggernaut bands after only two albums.
Support comes from LA’s HAIM. On record they sound like a a roughened up Fleetwood Mac but live they are louder, more aggressive and altogether more exciting. These three guitar-toting sisters completely justify the hype with songs such as Forever and Don’t Save Me already sounding like future classics. Unafraid of big riffs and cocky solos, the shared vocal duties add a wonderful depth to the band with harmonies and lyrical complexity building on the rock n roll West Coast swagger. Go Slow, a forgettable track from their recent EP, becomes a swirling seduction with the overlapping vocals adding a menace that’s intoxicating. They end their set by drumming, the percussion rising to a hypnotic crescendo.
Anticipation is high by the time Ms Welch arrives on stage and the venue is at capacity. With an elaborate Art Deco set Florence, initially revealed only in silhouette, steps out to rapturous applause before launching into familiar set opener, Only If For A Night. She is wearing a revealing dress entirely covered in sequins, replacing the first album’s pagan theme for something more glamorous. Her band is large, with a full string section and a harpist supplementing the typical band set up. The sound is excellent and the audience is immediately entranced.
Florence concentrates on the remarkable number of singles from both albums. It’s a sign of her ubiquity that even the most casual fan couldn’t help but recognise the likes of What The Water Told Me, Rabbit Heart and Shake It Out, which sound largely unchanged from the record. It takes Florence a while to warm up, leaving some of the more challenging vocal duties to her backing singers, but soon she is emulating the vocal operatics we have come to know and love. Skipping and running around the stage, the energy remains high and Florence is clearly enjoying herself. The highlight remains You Got The Love, which she has transformed into a towering performance, building from an unaccompanied vocal to a triumphant anthem. Even without Dizzee Rascal, it remains a great musical achievement.
Her set’s perfectly tuned for a show of this size – pseudo-Gothic imagery evolving into a life affirming chorus, her songs swell and fill the arena. Sadly her attempts at onstage banter aren’t quite so successful. It belies a self indulgence which seeps into the lengthy instrumental sections and the way she gazes benevolently at her audience, more Mother Teresa than a pop star. You can’t beat her for a rousing chorus, but you probably wouldn’t want to have a pint with her.
Nevertheless, Florence brings great theatricality to the evening. No Light, No Light gets everyone jumping and finds the perfect blend between high camp, powerful vocal and musical excellence. She closes her set with the classic Dog Days Are Over. Orchestrating the audience to jump as one, the O2 Arena is united by the nation’s favourite kooky superstar. As long as the tunes stay this good, Florence will be loved and the Machine will just get bigger and bigger.