“I’m here to have a religious experience tonight,” says my friend who is accompanying me to the Florence + the Machine show on Tuesday night. It’s her first Florence + the Machine gig and my eighth, but due to their penchant for high-drama, larger-than-life vocals, and yes, spiritually moving performances, neither of us is expecting to be disappointed as we enter the Scotiabank Area in downtown Toronto.
Touring their latest album, High as Hope, the stage is set relatively bare compared to the usual foliage that occupies the landscape at a Florence show. Perhaps a nod to the stripped-back sound of the album, the art-deco wood planking is all but naked against the backdrop of the eight-musician band accompanying singer, Florence Welch.
Dressed in a sheer gown, fit for a haunting, Welch and company start the show with the first track off of High as Hope, “June.” Instructing the audience to, “hold on to each other,” she sprints, twirls, jumps, and generally makes full use of the arena with her commanding stage presence. Playing most of the tracks from their latest album, with a generous amount of older hits accompanying those, the show is exhausting, not only from watching Welch expel her relentless energy, but also emotionally as she touches on themes of heartbreak, toxic masculinity, and loss of self. Beautiful ballads like “Between Two Lungs,” and “Cosmic Love” were artfully juxtaposed by darker rockers such as “Queen of Peace” and “100 Years,” while Welch delivered her highly rehearsed yet convincing interpretive choreography.
If you’ve ever been to a Florence + the Machine show before you will know that there is an inevitable moment when you will be asked to embrace a stranger or scream a loving affirmation at your neighbor. Last night was no exception, with Welch joking, “I’d now like to make it as hippy as possible,” to much laughter from the crowd before she instructed us to hold hands with the person next to us during “South London Forever.”
Beyond the connection you inevitably make with your seat-mate at a Florence + the Machine show, you will also connect with the artist herself. Whether through the direct and urgent delivery of Welch’s poetic lyrics, or physically as she rushes by you in the crowd. Taking off on a fearless tour of the arena during “Delilah,” the singer dodged security guards as she took flight into the middle of the audience where she sang most of the song. During the closer, “What Kind of Man,” Welch stood on the barriers and clutched members of the audience for balance while she head-banged to the song’s pulsing drum beat.
“Hope is an action,” Welch told us earlier in the show. Hope was indeed the theme of the night, and you couldn’t help but have faith in it as confetti rained down during the last song-turned-singalong, “Shake It Out.” With her final twirls across the stage she was gone, just the way she came, leaving us to pick glitter out of our hair and nod knowingly to each other; we had just been taken to church. Amen.
Image credit: Jennifer Buchanan