This is no ordinary gig. For one, the queue that spirals out from the venue and up the side streets is crammed full of the latest fashions; harem pants compete with sequinned dresses and lame headbands, whilst the men alternate between achingly hip geek chic and slacker charm. There’s an old double-decker bus parked outside, decked out with flowers and carrying revellers from central London to the outskirts known as Brockley. The venue itself is one of the last remaining ballrooms in England, its dilapidated exterior hiding a cornucopia of decadence inside.
And what decadence. The Rivoli Ballroom has velvet walls, an abundance of chandeliers and oversized Chinese lanterns. The latter of these mark out the path to a small stage that will soon be filled by one of the talents of 2009. Before that the throng of hip young folk mill about, dancing awkwardly to Leona Lewis‘ Bleeding Love and, bizarrely, Escapade by Janet Jackson. The music is incongruous, yet oddly affecting, the uniqueness of the venue represented by the random nature of the music. Amongst the breathtaking surroundings it feels a mite bizarre to be tapping along to Sometimes by Erasure, the feeling only heightened by the fact that Tina Turner filmed the video for Private Dancer in this exact spot.
The small yet vocal crowd are suitably livened up by the music (and the free alcohol) by the time Florence Welch and her band stride out. Dressed in a flowing black number, complete with black nail polish and a shock of red hair, she coyly thanks everyone for coming before launching into Between Two Lungs, the almost title track from her debut album, Lungs. Amongst the deftly plucked harp and pounding drums, Welch’s voice soars, holding notes that would usually be saved for a dramatic climax. The Florence that shyly walked amongst the throng earlier is now a different character altogether and as the strangely sinister My Boy Builds Coffins begins the crowd are in the palm of her hand.
That’s where they remain for the next 40 minutes as nearly every song from Lungs is given an airing, from the slow-burning, passionate Howl to the epic Blinding, which ends in a crescendo of strings and pounding drums, Welch’s body convulsing centre stage as if possessed. It’s a state that seems to suit her. During Dog Days Are Over she clambers on to a speaker stack, perching atop her throne and surveying her audience. Debut single Kiss With A Fist is a bundle of pent-up aggression that’s unleashed with as much venom as you imagine it was when it was recorded, Welch pounding out it’s bluesy tattoo on a lone drum centre-stage.
It’s not all primal, however, with the beautiful Cosmic Love dedicated to her mum, who is the audience. She thanks her family repeatedly for sticking by her, raising a gin and tonic to those that have supported her throughout the BRIT award maelstrom and the resulting backlash. As the night draws on, the temperature begins to rise, and as the crowd begin to flag the band start up recent single Rabbit Heart, drawing loud cheers. As the bridge begins to quieten the band add in an almost rave-esque piano figure that builds to the chorus, her watchers responding to Florence’s flailing arms and dramatic twirls.
The band encore with their cover of You’ve Got The Love, and the audience is asked to cheer loudly for the cameras. We’re reminded of how stupid this will look but that it will make “fucking great TV”. At one point a pair of shoes are held aloft, their owner seemingly so taken with proceedings that she thought it a good idea to dance sans footwear for the remainder. Given the presence of the cameras, Florence halts halfway through the final song, confessing her mistakes (“I forgot the second verse”) and starting again from scratch. It’s a moment of frailty from a performer who oozes an almost unnerving confidence.
Florence And The Machine may never live up to the hype generated by that premature BRIT award, and the jury’s out as to whether she will sell as well as her predecessor Adele, but what is certain is that amongst the decadent environs of the Rivoli Ballroom, Florence Welch became a contender. With a final thank you she’s gone, leaving with the promise to return for a dance during James Ford’s DJ set. The crowd seem more then willing to see her strut her stuff; if it’s anything like the whirling dervish we’ve just witnessed then it will be quite something.