Her star has risen with all the precipitous urgency of a volcano with a pressing engagement. That Florence Welch has seemingly gone from insecure waif of the side-stage to colossal high-priestess of the centre-stage owes as much to the tabloid circus surrounding her as her increasingly molten delivery. However, despite the mainstream’s depressingly predictable attempts to mould her into another Any Winehouse (rather than tapping her phone, they’re spiking her water supply) Ms Welch retains a focus impervious to intoxication, which is her strength under the spotlights, but also forms part of her shortcomings. For though what we’re witnessing borders on bewitching – ‘Raise It Up’, for example, has become some sort of incantation, with jutting arms and robes all aflow – there’s something stylised about this performance that flirts with contrivance. Having seen Flo in, er, full flow upon her emergence – climbing the tent scaffold in implausibly massive platform heels at Reading; freeform howling at Lovebox – there’s a professionalism here that, while admirable, negates the sort of wild abandon that actually got her here. Early in, ‘What The Water Gave Me’ hypnotises but its séance-like mechanics also leave you floundering in séance-like wonder: ‘Is, in fact, anybody there?’ Set against a weird kind of art-deco hotel lobby backdrop, there’s a sense of juxtaposition here that kind of disturbs. When she starts thrashing around – in front of two backing singers who look strikingly similar (twins?) – it’s like a scene from The Shining.
It could be that Flo has been ceaselessly touring the same material over and over in a seemingly remorseless PR assault that has turned FATM’s energy into something slightly static. However, some of the newer material aired tonight, specifically encore ‘Never Let Me Go’, show flashes of the spectral goddess Florence Welch could and should be – like a version of a former high-priestess, but even more incendiary: yes, occasionally, she’s like a burning Bush. And when she ignites like that, we’re all like a flock of Moseses (Mosi?) receiving our instruction from on high (yes, those platforms are still in evidence) and seeing a vision of what the future holds. The Machine may be a little rusty, but Florence has got more than enough of the magic, and love, to see her through.
NB. This review will be published in Record Collector very soon. More perplexingly, MY review of my own review (a metareview) will follow shortly. Watch this metaspace…