Florence + the Machine
with Anderson Paak & the Free Nationals
Amway Arena; Orlando, FL • May 14, 2016
by Jen Cray
Gone are the days of flower crowns, polyester pant suits, barefeet onstage, and musicians who speak, unabashedly, about the healing power of Love. Or are they? Not in the world within which Florence Welch resides. The flame haired siren is a time capsule from another era, the era preserved in grainy photographs in tomes documenting Woodstock, images of makeup-less faces, bared skin, and smiles. She writes with a soul-bearing poeticism, sings with euphoric abandon, and inspires an arena full of strangers to hug and kiss their neighbor and then “take something off” and spin it above their heads. She could have asked us all to run naked through the aisles, or to cackle like hyenas and we might have done it. Such is the magic of Florence + the Machine.
Opening the night, in a haze of smoke that had a very distinct odor (if ya get my meaning), was Anderson Paak and the Free Nationals. The soulful, hip hop with an island flavor act was an odd addition to the bill (or perhaps I was just still reeling from the disappointment that Grimes was set to hop on the bill at the next tour stop), but the multi talented performer won my heart when he jumped behind the drum kit. Hip hop may not be my bag, but I’m a sucker for some good beats and this dude delivered.
Making her entrance along the front row barricade, handing out roses and grabbing hands, Welch leisurely made her way up the steps to the stage before breaking into “What the Water Gave Me” and then “Ship to Wreck.” Within even just these opening minutes, her exuberance was infectious. Sprinting and twirling from one edge of the long stage to the other, and perching barefoot on the lip of the stage , she teased an ecstasy out of the fans on the floor (some of whom camped out for their spot in the early hours leading up to the concert). An ecstasy that reached its peak during the following song, “Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up”), when she flew back through the crowd once more, this time making her way all around the edges of the floor.
For nearly two hours Welch and her bountiful band held Orlando enraptured, tearing through selections from all three of her albums, including her most recent, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. The title song which, the English singer confessed, was inspired by the big blue skies of the U.S. – so unlike her native England. There were a myriad of confessions throughout the night, like how “Cosmic Love” was written while suffering through a massive hangover that her bandmate and friend Isabella Summers (“the Machine”) would not let her wallow in: “you have to write a song,” she told her. Further proof that Florence Welch is not of this world – while the rest of us are popping pills and trying to sleep off a hangover, Florence is writing unforgettably epic songs.
A rousing rendition of “Dog Days Are Over” had even the fans on the upper levels on their feet as the night came to a close, a song whose closing notes found Welch completing about a dozen perfect ballerina spins before falling to the floor on the last beat. A two song encore, that wrapped up with “The Drumming Song,” was the final flower given from artist to audience before sending us all out “to spread the love” into the dark night.