Although a stage set may not guarantee a band’s quality, a special degree of love and attention has been invested in Florence And The Machine’s stage.
Flowers festoon the Fuzz Club, there are birdcages dangling from the ceiling, and even a bouquet spelling the name ‘Florence’ high above the drum kit. Oh, and a massive golden harp stage right.
It all adds to something of a sense of occasion for the crowd gathered to see 21-year-old Florence Welch. Virtually unknown outside of London this time last year, a glut of festival appearances and a superb debut single in the shape of Kiss With A Fist means that both the hardcore fan and the casually intrigued are all packed into the Fuzz Club to see if she can measure up to the hype.
Not that Florence herself betrays any sense of nerves, skipping onto the stage barefoot, picking up a drumstick and bashing seven bells out of a free-standing drum during the opening Between Two Lungs. She’s a compelling live performer, padding around the stage making eye contact with her disciples huddled at the front, looking for all the world like Jenny Lewis‘ eccentric younger sister.
Welch’s backing band have expanded since this time last year (when it was just her and Lightspeed Champion on guitar) to become a six piece, including an impassive harpist and a keyboard player who almost rivals Florence for kinetic energy. Together they make Welch’s strange, sometimes macabre, songs sound like hits in waiting.
And what songs they are too. My Boy Builds Coffins is an early highlight, skipping along beautifully as Welch sings of a paramour who, well, builds coffins (“He crafts each one with love and with care, and then it’s thrown in the ground, it just isn’t fair”), while fan favourite Girl With One Eye sees the first few front rows singing along cheerily to a song about taking a knife and cutting a girl’s eye out.
As is to be expected from an artist with little recorded material to date, most of the setlist was unfamiliar to most of the audience, although Bird Song (which saw Florence run manically around the stage twirling the hanging birdcages) and Donkey Kosh were particularly impressive – the latter settling into a powerful blues jam by the song’s end.
Yet it’s Welch’s voice that’s the most important thing here – alternately hollering, whispering and screaming (often within the same verse), she’s never less than extraordinary. There are touches of Kate Bush and hints of Patti Smith, but ultimately she’s very much her own woman. Her charisma and stage presence are obvious too, even at this early stage of her career – whether it be grabbing the hand of a very excitable young girl at the front to dance, or perching on the speaker stacks she always holds the crowd in the palm of her hand.
After a deliciously frantic Kiss With A Fist, the set closer is forthcoming single Dog Days Are Over – an anthem in the making already. There’s even time for an encore, a cover version of The Source & Candi Staton‘s dance classic You Got The Love which has the desired effect of raising every one’s hands in the air.
People who were lucky enough to see Florence And The Machine in venues of this size should count themselves lucky – it’s a fair bet that this time next year, she’s going to be absolutely huge.