Florence + The Machine @ Rod Laver Arena

Four years after the last tour, it was a pleasure to see wonderful and bewitching Florence Welch spin her magic with yet another out-of-this-world performance, on the International Women’s Day no less.

I’ve now seen Florence + the Machine four times, and with every show I’m reminded anew what a magnificent, celestial creature Florence is onstage. She of course continues the long and honoured tradition of eccentric, unearthly female artists that goes all the way back to Kate Bush, but there’s really no one like her (though descriptions like “21st-century Stevie Nicks” certainly sound apt).

We arrived at Rod Laver Arena during the opener, King Princess. I knew absolutely nothing about the act (later Google search revealed her to be an American singer-songwriter from Brooklyn, New York), but the sounds coming from inside the arena weren’t especially compelling, so we simply milled around for a while, inspecting the official merch and treating ourselves to some overpriced ice cream and chocolate bar. Oh and we discovered that stainless steel bottles are not allowed inside the venue and will be confiscated at the entry.

It’s been ages since I actually purchased the tickets for this concert, but I was pretty happy with our seats, close to the top of the arena but still with a decent view of the stage. The setup was fairly minimalist bar the customary large screens and an intriguing construction that looked like a shrine made of white wax candles. It goes well with the baroque/gothic sensibility and religious imagery that Florence + the Machine often tap into, in their music as well as aesthetic.

Florence was a divine barefoot vision in her ethereal, sparkling blue chiffon gown with enormous billowing sleeves, which she used to the full dramatic effect, twirling them through the air like a belly dancer’s veil. Her onstage energy and phenomenal vocal power hasn’t dimmed one bit since I’ve last seen her, as she danced and jumped like an unstoppable force of nature.

Though the new songs from Dance Fever, the band’s latest album, were well received, the crowd truly came to life with those familiar plucked opening notes to Dog Days Are Over, which sent a wave of people rising from their seats all the way up. Halfway through the song, Florence finally addressed the crowd and made an impassioned plea for everyone to put away their phones. I forgot how surprisingly soft-spoken she is when she’s not singing like a viking warrior, and how she can somehow sound gentle while cussing like a sailor. The phone ban was reversed later for Cosmic Love, when Florence encouraged the audience to transform the arena into a glittering night sky.

About midway through the concert, Florence descended into the audience for a couple of songs, to commune with her most devoted fans in the front rows. Though she undoubtedly made a lot of young starstruck fans very very happy, I felt like she maybe spent one song on the floor too many and perhaps, for the first and thankfully brief time, lost some of the connection with the rest of the arena.

The band’s nearly fifteen-year-old debut Lungs got plenty of love on the night, with fan faves like Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up), Kiss With A Fist and the brilliant cover of You’ve Got The Love. During one of the newer songs, Florence mentioned the fact that the new album was made during the pandemic when all the nightclubs and concert venues stood empty, and how good it was to be back playing live and seeing people dance again.

I was hoping to hear more of Ceremonials, my personal favourite Florence + the Machine album, but I had to wait until the encore, which saw the band finish the show with hits like Shake It Out and Never Let Me Go. The latter felt especially moving after Florence introduced the song with a confession that it has been shelved for ten years, since performing it live used to bring back too many painful and traumatic memories. The euphoric Rabbit Heart meanwhile was the perfect way to wrap up yet another memorable show from one of my favourite witchy ladies.

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