This Florence and the Machine article was written by Suzanne Oswald, a GIGsoup contributor
Florence and the Machine last played in Glasgow in 2012, and a lot has changed since then. With an unexpected Glastonbury headline slot now under their belt, a Number One album on both sides of the Atlantic, along with a series of sold out shows, they have achieved a level of international success any artist would dream of. In fact, halfway through this gig, Florence Welch stares in wonderment at her surroundings, unable to believe that she is on the Hydro’s stage. Of course, it quickly becomes apparent that she was made to perform in arenas of this size.
Since their early days, the band have been notorious for their raw, unpolished, often unpredictable live performances. I once saw Florence Welch, at the O2 Academy, scale a 10ft speaker and down shots when she reached the top. She says of those past gigs: “I don’t know how we made it here based on them, but we must have been ok”. Understatement of the year. With this performance at the Hydro, it was great to see that in spite of their mainstream success, the band have lost none of their original energy and excitement. While there were no Spiderwoman impressions this time round, Welch is as captivating as ever. With a very bare stage, a shimmering background and white stage lights are the only distractions, it is clear from the outset, that she is the show in this production.
Making a subtle entrance to the stage, from the ground level of the arena, she immediately holds the audience in the palm of her hand. Gone are the long, floaty dresses and flowery headbands. She is now, every inch, the rock star. With her white flared trousers, bare feet and signature red hair tumbling down her blouse, there’s something very Stevie Nicks about her.
The music begins with the steady, gothic beat of ‘What the Water Gave Me’. It is an effectively subtle number to begin with, as she is quite restrained in her vocal. However, this then builds into a massive crescendo and almost cult-like chanting as her voice bellows around the Hydro, bringing the gig to life. She encourages the crowd to jump as she batters her tambourine at full force. This upbeat tempo continues into ‘Ship To Wreck’, the opening single from this year’s album, ‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful’ (2015). It is one of her poppier songs, with an underlying darkness beneath its anthemic quality. ‘Did I build this ship to wreck?’ she roars, with the song describing a drunken evening gone wrong. Nothing holds her back though, as she races across the stage.
When she isn’t running or pirouetting, she is just as entrancing with her unusual interpretive dancing. A stripped back version of ‘Shake It Out’ is an early favourite. Apologising for the lack of choir, she encourages the audience to take on the role instead as she becomes the conductor. Her vocals soar in these stripped back moments, filling every inch of the arena, right up to the people on the top floor who, she says, are ‘like the stars’. Her voice is not always to everyone’s taste but it is used best in these subtle moments, such as ‘Cosmic Love’ and ‘You Got the Love’.
Her positivity and enthusiasm is contagious, infecting the crowd. During ‘Rabbit Heart’, she tells everyone ‘get as high as you can’, as bodies are thrown in the air and everyone jumps as she is held aloft at the front of the crowd. In her new album’s title track ‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful’, written before she last came to Glasgow on her Ceremonials tour, she sings about a time she ‘was in love with everyone and everything’. As she beams from the stage, it is impossible not to be swept in by her gentle humility.
All this time, ‘the Machine’ is steadily whirring away behind her with its numerous instruments and backing singers. The third album, a huge transatlantic success, saw the band take on a bigger sound. It moves away from the indie pop of their earlier records, and magnifies everything we expect from a Florence album. The gigantic orchestral arrangements are perfect for the arena setting, and are particularly impressive on the bluesy ‘Delilah’ and gospel-like ‘Mother’. Florence herself is always keen to remind that this is not a one-woman show, but is in fact a collaborative effort.
The main set ends on a euphoric high with two massive hits, ‘Spectrum’ and ‘Dog Days Are Over’. The latter sends the Hydro into a complete frenzy as Florence encourages the audience to embrace each other. Next thing you know, she is ripping off her blouse and running around the arena topless, waving it above her head. Her adoring crowd follow her every instruction and duly follow suit, as articles of clothing are whipped into the air and everyone jumps in unison. It’s impossible not to get caught up in the transcendental atmosphere she creates, even if it’s for one night only.
With barely time to breathe, the encore begins with the thrashing guitars of ‘What Kind Of Man’. This is arguably her biggest song to date, and it overwhelms with its guitar rage and defiant chorus. After a brief collapse on the floor, the night ends with ‘Drumming Song’, a fitting and dramatic finale.
Florence and the Machine are riding the crest of a wave right now, and if this performance is anything to go by, they won’t be coming off anytime soon. Having worked their way up from drunken nights in King Tuts, they have rightfully earned their position in the big leagues. I predict that 2016 will see them earn many more headline slots.
Florence and the Machine’s latest album ‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful’ is out now via Island Records.