A Florence and The Machine show transforms whatever venue, even Dallas’ Gexa Energy Pavilion, into a mythical, very English, landscape where darkness looms and crescendos come often. At the center of the experience is Florence Welch, the red-haired siren, always clad in a flowing dress.
Sunday, Sept. 30 was Dallas’ night with the band’s Ceremonials Tour. Though the crowd could peek at the lights of the Texas State Fair at the far side of the pavilion, all eyes were locked on stage as Florence and the Machine performed their particular blend of chamber pop and indie rock.
The stage was set with a large, art-deco mirror-like piece, which served as a screen for projections to fit each song the band performed. Welch first appeared on stage silhouetted behind one of the screen’s partitions during the opening song, “Only If For A Night.” The song also opens the band’s sophomore album, titled “Ceremonials.”
The song’s lyrics, like most of Florence and The Machine’s catalogue, deals with ghosts, the war between darkness and light, and ceremonials. Its sound is also typical Florence and the Machine: minor chords, heavy drums, a choir and an ever-present harp. The sound isn’t oppressive, however; it’s dark, but playful – even jubilant. By the song’s bombastic conclusion, the crowd was dancing almost as much as Welch herself.
Welch’s energy is impressive and infectious. It’s also a testament to her talent that she basically sprints across the stage during the more upbeat offerings like “Drumming Song,” never flubbing a single note. Her voice is full and bright. It commands rapt attention.
For all the theatricality in the music and the production, Welch’s easy stage personality is well-juxtaposed with the dark nature of her lyrics. Her anthem “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)” uses ritualistic sacrifice as part of a metaphor for overcoming adversity. Before she sang the song, Welch used some dark humor on the crowd.
“We’ve come all the way from England looking for sacrifices,” she said. “So if you have someone with you that helps you get through life, raise them up. I want to see people on shoulders!”
Dozens of audience members responded by jumping on the shoulders of their friends as they sang along with “Rabbit Heart.”
Before playing the band’s recent UK #1 dance-pop single, “Spectrum (Say My Name),” Welch made sure the crowd had greeted each other so nobody would feel awkward dancing around next to strangers.
“Texas has friendly people,” she said. “And friendly crickets, too.”
As she addressed the crowd, she spotted a fan with his chest painted with “we heart Flo.” She dragged him on stage so she could show the audience that he had filled the heart symbol on his chest with a spectrum of colors.
With the mood sufficiently lifted, the heavy beats and soaring vocals of “Spectrum” had the entire pavilion on their feet dancing.
The show went on with powerful renditions of album cuts “Breaking Down” and “Heartlines.” Welch also regaled the crowd with some of her adventures in Dallas and at the State Fair.
One of the more magical moments of the show was “Leave My Body.” The song was performed a capella by Welch and her three backup singers. The entire arena was hushed as Welch effortlessly cartwheeled through very difficult vocal arrangements.
A single suspended note from Isabella “The Machine” Summers’ keyboard tipped fans off that an almost tribal rendition of the band’s hit single “Shake It Out” was to occur. The song’s form has evolved from its recorded version to a more dreamy, syncopated sound which was an interesting choice. The song, however, still sounded wonderful as it hit its final crescendo.
The show’s pre-encore finale was “No Light, No Light,” which was also slightly reworked toward an even more bombastic take. Welch played a drum along with the drummer for the song’s intro as lights flashed maniacally like a strobe to the beat. The beat was heavy and loud until the song’s bridge, where all instruments backed out to leave Welch singing one of the best lyrics for a live show. “It’s so easy to sing it to a crowd,” she said, pointing at the audience as she took a breath. “But it’s so hard, my love, to say it to you all alone.”
The crowd went wild as Welch held that last note for an astoundingly long amount of time – until the bassist came in with such a loud rumble, you could feel it in your chest. The chorus of “No Light, No Light” left the crowd’s pulse elevated well after the band had left the stage.
Florence and the Machine returned to the stage to perform “What The Water Gave Me,” one of Welch’s darker songs about the death of Virginia Woolf. The song is named after a Frida Khalo painting. It shows how connected Welch is to her music, because her face showed signs of a real emotional low when the song finished.
The euphoric finale, however, cleared all those dark emotions up. The song was “The Dog Days are Over,” the band’s biggest hit in the United States. It is a song about regaining happiness after a deep depression. By the end of the song, the crowd was completely enraptured in an ecstatic dance and song with Welch.
Listen to Welch’s battle between light and darkness by picking up her records, 2009’s “Lungs” and 2011’s “Ceremonials” on iTunes or Amazon.com.
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