“Hold on to each other, hold on to each other”, Florence Welch implored her audience in the first song of the evening. She had a message to send, and she wasn’t leaving until it’s done.
A barefoot Welch ran giddily across the stage, in an ochre lace dress that looks plucked from Stevie Nicks’ own wardrobe. Her silhouette was magnified across the screens set up on either side of The Domain, whose outdoor stage on January 26 was packed with 28,000 worshippers on a steamy summer night. Her eyes glinted as she looked over her shoulder, striking power poses to end each of her songs. Her voice rollicked along with powerful ballads and her arms whipped up around her in a flurry of movement. She is the picture of glorious, unbridled energy.
The operatic tumult of her singing voice turned to breathiness when she addressed her audience, though it didn’t come across as affected. This is Florence + The Machine first Australian tour after headlining Laneway in 2015, and follows last year’s release of the tender and confessional High as Hope. “I’m quite shy,” she confessed to the crowd after a high-drama rendition of “Cosmic Love”. Perhaps here she reflected on the giddy pirouettes she cut across the stage just before, adding, “You wouldn’t think so though, would you?”.
She certainly cut a striking presence on stage, though there is work behind the illusion of barefoot insouciance. The amount of technical stagecraft needed to project her glowing image to a sold-out audience at The Domain was made abundantly clear when she sat on the edge of the stage, inadvertently drawing the camera to focus on the whole hog of lights, fittings and rigging.
But no matter, because the evening was topical enough to distract from any small drawbacks. The personal is political on Welch’s stage. Her voice swooped when she sung “You are my true north”, in ‘Patricia’, a song dedicated to Patti Smith, and growled in the bridge that she tells the audience is directed towards toxic masculinity. “I believe her, I believe her”, she sang, one fist held up in the air.
The pulsing basslines and wild energy of the evening were put to simmer during the duet Welch performed with support act Marlon Williams. The harp plucked them into a rendition of Williams’s track ‘Nobody gets what they want anymore’ and there was a quiet simplicity to the whole thing.
As is now expected at a Florence + The Machine show, Welch rallied everyone to hug a stranger, to tell a stranger that they love them. In “Dog Days are Over” she coaxed the crowd to put away their phones and grab hands with strangers next to them. Though the last few years have been hard, there is hope and power in individual action, she said. The music lifted and soared. She may play this at every performance, but there was such sincerity in those massive, projected eyes, that you couldn’t help but be taken along for the ride.
The aura of hippie giddiness Welch embodies would veer towards the unbalanced without the solid dash of self-awareness she brings to the stage. At one point, she thanked the fans who have been with her since 2009’s multi-award winning Lungs and then welcomed those who are new converts. Her older albums are just like this new one, she told the newcomers, but more shouty.
They may have been shouty, but Welch is not afraid to embrace those shouty, heady days of her reckless youth. In closer ‘Shake it Off’, from sophomore album Ceremonials, the band’s classic formula of build-up and release was played to perfection as the harmony of violins, the harp and tight drums ended the evening in a fury of sound and energy. Those who were still holding hands with strangers stood united in the kinetic energy.
Florence + The Machine makes a loyal crowd want to reach out, and the high-drama melodies had the crowd holding on.