Review by Nikki Rodgers with Photography by Sophie Jones

Clad in frills and a gown fit for both an Elizabethan sleepover and a Pagan wedding, it’s clear that Florence Welch’s return to the second city has not been phoned in.

Florence + the Machine

With an ethereal and inspiring opening salvo from Brooklyn electronic artist Wet, the tone was set beautifully for what turned out to be a beautiful and somewhat twisted evening of dark folk from London’s most notable disenchanted fairy tale princess. The Chinese whispers rattling around the bleachers before the show are largely based around what Flo’s choice of garment will be. Hardly surprising in an age where everybody knows what the setlists going to be before the show.

Aside from that, a quick web search will prove that it hasn’t really changed on this leg of the tour at all. That doesn’t matter though, it anything the rigidity of the setlist makes this experience more theatrical and meticulously rehearsed. That format is perfect for Florence, offering her a stable bedrock to compliment her famed spontaneity. She radiates an impulsive freedom on stage which would terrify most other solo artists.

Florence + the Machine

This being the High as Hope Tour, it’s only fitting that Florence + the Machine open the show with the opening track from the latest album of the same name. ‘June’ is strange, beautiful, and builds up into an epic crescendo as she repeatedly wails “I’m so high, I can see an angel!” in her signature falsetto. Our star is the last of her ensemble to make her way down the illuminated staircase on stage, with her musicians receiving a huge ovation as they shuffle onto the stage before her. Stepping quite literally into the spotlight, this sermon is underway.

Florence + the Machine

Rolling through ‘Hunger’, ‘Between Two Lungs’ and ‘If only for a night’, it seems that all four of The Machine’s current album offerings are going to get a fair airing tonight. That being said, the titular star of the tour takes up almost half of tonight’s song choices. As Florence addresses the crowd in between songs, it’s hard to wrap your head around the fragility and grace of her personality. Her delicate and shy disposition being paraded in lights through a worldwide dirge of arena audiences seems mind blowing, almost oxymoronic, but she carries herself with such panache that it’s easy to forget about her timid side, and concentrate on the arena rock star she’s become. She even takes time to embrace some of the more adult heckles.

Florence + the Machine

Florence + the Machine

This show has the feel of an epic folk opera. There is a beginning a middle and an end. Sure, this is a band, playing the band’s songs, to the band’s fans, but the subtle stage set and vaudeville costumes give the experience a regal sense of civilisation that most arena shows lack. This could have been an exquisite concert hall in Prague and not felt out of place.

That’s not to say that the audience doesn’t get involved. The fans play a part in this story as vividly as Florence herself, and every song of the evening is met with an angelic chorus of thousands, singing every note along with her. There’s even a moment during ‘Patricia’ where she politely suggests that everyone puts their phones away for a little while and just enjoys the moment, and isn’t that what this is all about?

Florence + the Machine

Occasionally, though, Florence is obliged to showcase the hypnotising talents that made her a Glastonbury headliner in 2015, and her arena demons are exorcised as she belts out crowd pleasing anthems like ‘Dog Days are Over’ and ‘Ship to Wreck’. Being barefoot on stage has become a talking point for the press’s coverage of Florence over the last couple of years, and seeing her live kind of justifies that interest. Watching her race around the stage and leap through the air like a Duracell-powered ballet dancer is serious food for thought in a world where some artists won’t go on stage until the air conditioning is set to their liking.

As the main set reaches its logical conclusion, Florence elects to dive off the stage and run a full lap of the arena, only stopping half way to run though the ocean of fans before her. It’s clear that she possesses no fear, and the thought of diving into the thick of the sweaty audience to sing penultimate offering ‘Delilah’ to her following scares her not one bit. We’re getting sweaty together and more importantly everybody is smiling.

Florence + the Machine

As the epic encore comes to a close with an anthemic rendition of 2011’s ‘Shake it Out’, making way for a deserved curtain call which you can really feel. This was less of a show and more of a religious experience, with every person in the room going full circle on a range of emotions, most notably pride; pride for the journey this amazing woman has been on over the last decade, and at 32 years of age she’s clearly just getting started. It’s a good job too, because if her face was anything to go by at the end of the evening, the second city has just given her 16,000 reasons to come back.

Florence + the Machine

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