Live: Florence + the Machine

CYNTHIA WOODS MITCHELL PAVILION — 9/29/2012: On Saturday, September 29th, 2012, the eclectic and intriguing Florence + the Machine returned to Houston for the second time this year. I was lucky enough to have been able to attend both shows, the first having been at the Bayou Music Center (fka Verizon Theatre) back in May.

This go-round, however, brought me back to the increasingly-frequented — at least for me, lately — Woodlands Pavilion for a relatively early show on a deliciously stormy “fall” night.

Unfortunately, and in my typical fashion, I misread the “you’re A-OK to cover the show!” email and arrived 30 minutes late for my escort, and subsequently missed the entire set of the opener, The Macabees. According to Ms. Florence Welch, frontwoman of aforementioned Florence + the Machine, The Macabees are “their favorite band ever,” and we denizens were commanded to “go out and buy every album they’ve ever done!”

Admittedly, from the distance, the muffled tones of their set seemed rather enticing, and checking them out is definitely on my to-do list. Put it on yours, as well.

After the intense race to snap as many photos as possible during her first three songs, I stashed my trusty Nikon back in a secret-and-secure location and situated myself back among the crowd to enjoy the remainder of the show from my seat.

If you enjoy Florence + the Machine on recorded media, there is no way you will be disappointed seeing her live. Anyone familiar with her stage shows will describe them as hauntingly beautiful, powerfully emotive, and fantastically decadent. Evoking the early 20th Century styles of Art Deco and Art Nouveau artists such as Erte and Alphonse Mucha, her set and lighting seemed to magically transform the Pavilion to a lavish dreamland of days long gone.

Much as her music videos tend to do, her live stage show sucks you in and pulls your attention away from everything else going on around you. You are transfixed, transformed, transposed, lost in her world, being taken along on a mystical, musical journey unlike most we see these days.

Case in point; did anyone, myself included, notice that at some point, it started monsoon-ing that night up at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion? Hell, no. The only reason I even noticed was because I made the ever-so-wise choice to “avoid the lines” and check out the merch during one of my lesser-favorite songs, thereby getting caught in the torrential downpour that ensued. Had I not been mid-shower myself, I never would have even noticed a thing.

Much to my joy, Ms. Welch played many, if not all, of her fan favorites, such as “Only if for a Night,” “Cosmic Love,” “Seven Devils,” “No Light No Light,” “Shake it Out,” and for her encore, “What the Water Gave Me,” and of course, “Dog Days Are Over.” I wouldn’t have faulted her for playing “Heavy in Your Arms” or “Howl,” but over all I can’t, and won’t, complain.

At some point early on in her performance, poor Florence fell victim to Houston’s ever-crippling humidity as, for the first time ever in my life, an artist whose live show I was watching took a moment to inform the crowd that she was apparently having a bad hair day and looked frightfully like a deranged old lady.

She danced that fine line between endearing insecurity and typical girly vanity off the stage to resecure her ‘do, and arriving back, hair pinned in place, proceeded on with our show. It was cute for sure.

Now, I’ve heard it through the grapevine that Ms. Welch gets the jitters now and again, and may possibly even suffer from a slight case of stage fright here and there. I’m not going to say for certain I believe those things, nor will I claim them to be absolute truth and use this platform as a means to perpetuate said theories, but I wouldn’t put it past fans to recall having sensed a nervous edge to her voice here and there while addressing the crowd, or a slight shake to her hands now and again between songs.

Even if she weren’t predisposed to nervousness by nature, could you really blame her for being slightly intimidated by getting on stage in front of hundreds, sometimes thousands of people, and singing those songs of hers? Anyone familiar with her lyrics knows quite well that they’re soul-baring, to say the least, if not downright heart-wrenching at times. Exposing her soul on stage on a nightly basis must be emotionally exhausting. I wouldn’t blame her hands one bit for shaking.

She wrapped up her set with “No Light, No Light,” and bidding Houston farewell, took a bow, and exited stage left. Cheers of “Flor-rence, Flor-rence, Flor-rence” drowned out the ethereal music ebbing from the stage, and as the cheering and chanting become almost unintelligible from the loudness, the band emerged once more from backstage, and the crowd went even wilder than before. Florence came back out, and one might have thought Jesus himself had taken the stage. Flo fans are pretty intense, I suppose.

She began her encore with “What the Water Gave Me” and ended the show with “Dog Days Are Over,” but not before informing the crowd of their obligation of taking part in the “Ritual of her Ceremonials tour.”

Those of you familiar with live performances of “Dog Days” will know immediately that this ritual consists pretty much of one thing: jumping. The entire crowd, jumping. Let me tell you, when I say I have never seen such a large crowd of people jumping up and down so enthusiastically in one place before in my entire life, and I feel certain they felt us jumping all the way in Australia.

Florence + the Machine, Florence herself, is a performer in every sense of the word. Her voice, her moves, her attire, the set, the stage, the musicians, their vocal and instrumental perfection, it all come together to create an experience no one could deny as magical. Few were truly born for the stage, but Florence could spend her entire life there and never be unentertaining.

If you missed not one but both of these shows, fear not; Florence and the Machine is playing this month’s ACL, this coming weekend, October 12th through 14th up in Austin.

If you don’t have a ticket, you can probably go stand outside the gates at Zilker Park and buy one for an exorbitantly inflated fee and run the risk of being ripped off. Tenacious negotiation skills will come in handy here. If you do get in, though, it will definitely be worth the pilgrimage. END

(All photos by Karen Hebert.)

Live review by . Live review posted Tuesday, October 9th, 2012. Filed under Features, Live Reviews.

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