June 17, 2011
It turned out that Florence + the Machine were well worth the wait. Nearly two years after the release of her highly acclaimed debut, Lungs, Florence Welch finally brought her spirited, theatrical live show to Minnesota, and easily charmed the sold-out Minnesota Zoo audience with a captivating 80-minute set that kept both the overflow crowd dancing and the threatening storms at bay.
Playing with a talented 5-piece backing band that only buoyed her passionate songs, Welch's angelic singing voice was the clear star of the show, as she had by far the best vocals I've heard yet this year. Florence proved to be equally as enthralling even when she wasn't singing, as her diaphanous fuchsia dress blew dramatically in the evening breeze while she danced barefoot all over the small stage.
The band arrived well before Welch did, setting the groove of opener "My Boy Builds Coffins," as Florence eventually made her stirring entrance, dancing on stage like a Pre-Raphaelite nymph to an adoring crowd. And right from the start, Welch's soaring voice pierced the night sky and carried each and every tune passionately heavenward. After the mercurial opener, the band delivered an urgent, double-percussion version of "Between Two Lungs," that flowed easily into "Drumming Song," which found Welch beating on a bass drum while belting out her histrionic vocals.
The first of three new songs of the night was next, "Strangeness & Charm," and it turned out to be one of the best (and loudest) moments of the entire show, with a lively electric guitar providing the driving pulse while Welch completely lost herself in the track. After a dynamic version of "Howl," Welch addressed the crowd for the first time, saying: "Thanks so much for coming to see us at the Zoo. I think this is where the bird show is, and I see some feathers fluttering around--it seems fitting, since we brought some birds with us as well." She went on to introduce Steve, a large, stuffed crow that was atop of one of the many birdcages on stage, that went well with the colorful bird and flower tapestry that served as a backdrop for the stage.
Welch then slowed things down a bit, reducing the band down to a trio for a harp-laden, acoustic version of "I'm Not Calling You A Liar," that was moving, but lost a bit of the momentum built up by the rousing start to the show (and caused the crowd to take their seats for the first time). Most people stayed seated while Welch tore through a hushed beginning of "Hurricane Drunk," but when the song really kicked in, most of the crowd were standing and singing along to what clearly has become an anthem to her fans. Another new song quickly followed, with Florence playing tambourine during an impassioned rendition of "What The Water Gave Me." These new songs all soared while fitting in seamlessly with the older numbers, and they certainly bode well for Welch's highly-anticipated sophomore album.
The London songstress really took over on an emotional version of "Cosmic Love" that featured the rhythm of a heartbeat as the song drew stirringly to an end. Welch was dramatically back-lit during the pensive, simmering start of "Blinding," which eventually reached a full-boil during its fitful finish. Welch's rousing cover of the Source's "You've Got The Love" was next, which eventually took off (and got everyone dancing) after a slow, prolonged introduction that featured the doleful harp work of Tom Monger blending smoothly with Florence's melodious vocals. The main set ended with one of the clear standouts of the night, an on-fire rendition of "Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)" that had everyone clapping and singing along to the rousing number while Welch bounded emphatically around the stage.
After a brief encore break, during which the crowd never stopped roaring, the band came out first, with Florence trailing after just like she did at the start of the show. Welch introduced the last new song of the evening, "Bedroom Hymns," by telling us this is only the second time they've ever played it, and the fervent track proved to be another great cut from her forthcoming album. After introducing the band, and herself, ("My name is Florence, and it's been very nice to meet you,") there was only one thing left for them to do, and that was bring the house down with a boisterous version of "Dog Days Are Over," which ended the show on a total high.
Florence Welch certainly took a while to eventually get here, making her devoted Minnesota fans wait a long time to finally get to see her live. But everyone's patience was eventually rewarded (and then some) by an unforgettable performance by a truly original artist that will have us all counting the days until we get to see her again.
Critic's Bias: While I enjoyed Lungs when it came out, I certainly had no idea how great a live act Florence + the Machine are. Flo can certainly sing with the best of 'em.
The Crowd: A diverse mix of kids accompanied by their parents, older fans there to see what all the hype is about, and hardcore fans who had been waiting years to see Florence perform.
Overheard In The Crowd: "When is your new album coming out?" To which Florence teasingly replied, "You'll just have to wait and see."
Random Notebook Dump: While Welch mentioned the Zoo quite a few times (and how she didn't want anyone to get eaten by a bear at one of her shows), she strangely never once mentioned anything about Minnesota during her set.
For More Photos: See our full slideshow by Steve Cohen.
My Boy Builds Coffins
Between Two Lungs
Strangeness & Charm
I'm Not Calling You A Liar
What The Water Gave Me
You've Got The Love
Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)
Bedroom Hymns (Encore)
Dog Days Are Over (Encore)