At first glance, the massive sparkly harp at the lip of a posh, all-black stage flanked with enormous art deco facades gave the impression that you were entering a regal opera house. It was easy to forget this sophisticated display was actually smack dab in the middle of a basketball arena. But when left to the devices of Britain's newest hit makers, Florence + the Machine (featuring dynamo chanteuse Florence Welch), the mood and the look the band concocted helped transform the USF Sun Dome into a glitzy 1920's ballroom on Tuesday night. For their first visit to the Tampa Bay area, Florence and her band delivered a spectacular performance that was as captivating as it was visually stunning. [Text by Gabe, photos by Chris Spires.]
After the nine-piece band (including back-up singers and a skilled plucker of said harp) took their spots on the ornate stage, Florence appeared in dramatic fashion via a silhouette at the rear of the stage as her opening number, "Only If For a Night" began. As she belted the first few lines and a sea of intense blue lights washed over the stage, Ms. Welch slowly emerged from behind the screen from which she'd coyly teased the screaming audience. Exquisitely stylish in a long black flowing gown and her recognizable flame red locks tied up and braided, Florence looked more poised to portray Norma Desmond in a funky, modern revival of the stage play Sunset Boulevard rather than to take the center spotlight at a rock show. In her slow, deliberate barefoot steps to the edge of the stage, Florence quickly reminded everyone on the tightly packed, standing room only floor and in the mostly occupied seats in the arena why the came in the first place: that voice. That soaring, passionate, infectious, melodic croon that sometimes teeters on operatic that has won over so many fans across the globe and has catapulted Florence + the Machine to worldwide fame and success.
Her flair for refinement, drama and onstage histrionics seem especially advanced and well-executed despite her tender young age (Florence recently celebrated her 26th birthday). But the initial perception of a moody, mourning femme fatale is quickly dispelled. Welch is capable of shifting her demeanor in an instant by uncontrollably hopping and gleefully prancing about the stage all the while boasting a cheerful smile minutes after emoting, as witnessed while she belted the gut-wrenching lines of "Drumming Song," one of the highlights of her stunning 2009 debut, Lungs.
Florence seems especially tuned in and connected with her mostly female, 20-something fanbase who worship at her altar and connect with her lovelorn, heartbreaking tales. Constantly waving at and interacting with those diehards who spent the majority of the night squeezed on the elbow-to-elbow floor of the arena, Florence did her damndest to make the long wait to finally see her grace our hometown well worth it. She frequently name-checked our city by enthusiastically yelling "Hello Tampa!" a few times alongside the more sincere "you're really lovely, Tampa!". Rather than sounding cliched or trite, the sentiments rang true and echoed the amazement of a young woman taken aback by the constant roars of applause and screams that followed her every number.
Her pacing was excellent, too. Florence mixed the setlist evenly by equally representing selections from her sophomore offering, 2011's outstanding Ceremonials, as prominently as those from her first album. The gracefulness of "Cosmic Love" was met with a hush that fell over the arena as Florence quietly crooned center stage. And, minutes later, she quickly brought the pace and the adrenaline level up by whipping and twirling her entire tall, slender frame into a whirlwind as she maniacally bounced across the stage during "Between Two Lungs."
"Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)" is undoubtedly one of the standouts from the Florence + the Machine's catalog as it is, but the unprecedented and unexpected leap Welch took from the stage during the song's performance and the sprint she took around the perimeter of the dome floor made it all the more memorable. Without an ounce of trepidation, Florence hoisted herself back on the stage, finished the song out and ended it in a statuesque, sexy pose. It's clear that Florence Welch has spent time honing her act and perfecting the art of dazzling an adoring crowd.
The woeful strains of "Breaking Down" were met with the entire audience waving their arms above their heads from side to side to the beat of the music. Florence's incredibly powerful vocals were in fine form for the entire evening and sharply penetrated the air in the much improved-sounding Sun Dome. Somewhere between the ethereal coos of Kate Bush and the angst-ridden grit of Siouxsie Sioux lies Florence's familiar yet deftly original vocal prowess. For those who came to see and hear if Welch and her Machine were truly worthy of the hype and the accolades they regularly receive in the press, it would be hard to walk out the doors of this spectacular performance any less of a believer or as a new convert. Florence's youthful charm along with her ability to deliver the goods and sing them like she means them sets her worlds apart from her modern-day musical contemporaries.
As the superb 90-minute set came to a close, Florence wisely chose to finish out the night with the final encore of "Dog Days Are Over," arguably her best-known song thanks to its inclusion in several movie and television soundtracks. Instead of ending on a quiet and peaceful note, Florence egged the already ramped-up crowd to join her in spontaneous po-going for the evening's final number. After giving a spirited pep talk and urging the audience to really let loose (as if they needed the encouragement), Florence successfully led the entire, nearly sold-out crowd in frantic, choreographed non-stop jumping for the song's duration. The quaint, thin, gorgeous redhead wielded her power and convinced even the most sedentary concertgoer to flail and bounce for a few minutes. The spectacle was as awesome to witness as it sounds.
With her commanding presence and unique combination of talent and charisma, Florence Welch is in every way a star whose boundaries seem limitless, and she more than lived up to the constant praise that follows her on Tuesday. And that voice! I'm sure its shimmering beauty and depth is still haunting the minds and souls of those lucky enough to have experienced it, only if for a night.
Only If for a Night
Between Two Lungs
Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)
Leave My Body
Shake It Out
No Light, No Light
What the Water Gave Me
Dog Days Are Over
Tyler- I can't believe how talented of a writer you are. This article was beautifully…
Great interview! Give the interviewer a full time job! He's great!
The DJ was actually The Castle's very own DJ Tom Gold :)
Fabulous review Gabe! Too bad I missed it.