Florence + the Machine @ Alexandra Palace
It’s hard to have missed Florence + the Machine’s meteoric rise to stardom over the past six years. Even before debut studio album Lungs was released back in 2009, the Florence Welch-fronted group was longlisted for BBC’s Sound of 2009, ultimately losing out to synth-popper Little Boots. But even during her early evening Reading Festival slot that year, she was making a name for herself, climbing the rafters of the NME tent on what was her 23rd birthday.
Six years on and three studio albums later, she has proven her staying power, evolving into a major world festival headliner having topped the bill at Chicago’s Lollapalooza festival this summer and stepped up to headline what is undoubtedly the world’s biggest festival stage, taking over Foo Fighters’ Pyramid Stage headline slot at Glastonbury following Dave Grohl’s unfortunate mid-gig leg-break a few weeks beforehand.
Arriving barefoot for the first of four sold-out shows at North London’s historic Alexandra Palace venue, and making her way to greet fans at the barrier before climbing the stairs up to a grand stage, Welch opened with Ceremonials single What The Water Gave Me, the London native beginning the show with the on-stage energy and kookiness she’s now famous for.
The second single from her latest studio album How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful – Ship To Wreck – was one of the great opening numbers, the 29-year-old frontwoman bounding about the vast stage with a relentless energy that would dominate the show, her fiery hair being flailed around with abandon.
“We wanted to have a choir, but there wasn’t enough room” she said, turning to face the vast array of musicians and backing singers adorning the stage. Turning back to her audience she asked “So will you be the choir?” A united scream erupted from the crowd as she launched into Ceremonials lead single Shake It Out.
A slow and minimally-instrumented ease into debut album single, a cover of The Source’s You’ve Got the Love, had the crowd clapping along to keep rhythm until the full band kicked in halfway through the song.
“The next song is very special” introducing new album title track How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. “It’s great to be able to play it in London. It was written many miles away but recorded in London.” “It was like a big, blue sky over the world and I get to bring it back and give it to all of you.”
Referring to playing a show in her home town again, Welch continued with the London love: “Everything started from London, all my first gigs, all my first songs were written here.” Referring to her long-standing friend, collaborator and band member Isabella “Machine” Summers, she said “this one was written in Is’s studio in Crystal Palace” before quietly launching into a stripped-back version of Lungs’ track Cosmic Love, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar and harp.
The main set was closed out with Dog Days Are Over, a huge circular screen hovering above the stage displaying a crescent moon, slowly becoming full over the course of the song. The 7,000-strong crowd echoed back every word of the Lungs single, the ornate Victorian walls of the People’s Palace reverberating the song to a new level.
The night ended with debut album track Drumming Song, which had the audience buzzing for this, one of her best-loved early hits. Welch collapsed to the stage as the song drew to a close before dashing off once again, this time for good.
As polished as Florence + the Machine’s crazy seems to have become, there’s something awe-inspiring about the sheer energy hit after hit is delivered with, the high notes still ringing through sharply after all the running around. And Welch’s specific brand of folksy, indie rock resonates so strongly with so many that it’s uplifting to see what a girl from Camberwell can achieve in just a few short years.
Florence + the Machine play three more dates at Alexandra Palace this week ahead of their Apple Music Festival appearance on September 28th and an autumn-winter US & Australia tour.
Live Review and Photography by Kalpesh Patel. Kalpesh his more great concert photography here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingforkate/