With the exception of those looking to be comfortably seated, it is fair to state that most live music fans prefer their gigs in smaller venues where you can get up close to the performing musicians. Hell, many even automatically pass on 40,000+ stadium events and raise an eyebrow when even their favourite artists are booked at an arena. Exceptions are few and far between, but I recall an article from a couple of years back, where the live show reviewer wished that a NYC show had been held at an arena, rather than a club. Why? The singer was Florence Welch and the room was quite simply not large enough to do her booming voice justice. At the time, I thought “Codswallop”… Having now seen the flame-haired songstress perform live at the 10,000+ capacity Rod Laver Arena, I can understand where the writer was coming from.
First up, however, was Blood Orange… the solo side-project of Devonte Hynes (better known as Lightspeed Champion). Undoubtedly a strange choice as support, he clearly got the gig due to his sporadic writing and producing partnership with Florence + The Machine. Armed with nothing but a laptop (complete with the annoying lit-up fruit beaming into the audience), a keyboard & his guitar, Hynes struggled to garner any interest from the crowd apart from the strange images portrayed on his projector. In all honesty though, it was a decent half-hour set, with the sultry melodies & Hynes’ flamboyant guitar-work often shining through. It was simply a matter of him showing his wares to what was undeniably an inappropriate audience, which clearly suggested the night’s headline act had well and truly crossed over into the mainstream.
With the aforementioned audience seemingly containing all ages and genders of music lovers, the crowd were steadily brought to rapture as the instruments of The Machine (including harp) were unveiled, and the 5 musicians & 2 backing vocalists walked out on to stage. Using the art-deco set to advantage, Florence’s silhouette was then illuminated, before walking out to a surprisingly raucous response. Dressed in a black, floor-length cape, Welch immediately captured everyone’s attention with a stunning rendition of ‘Ceremonials’ opener ‘Only If For a Night’. At this stage, this was anything but a pop concert, with Florence’s haunting – verging on supernatural – persona and commanding voice, holding everyone’s attention as if a script had to be followed. The ethereal vibe continued for much of the first half hour with ‘What the Water Gave Me’ providing a superb early-set highlight, before ‘Spectrum’ and ‘Heartlines’ made for a fantastic one-two punch.
As the night wore on, Florence became much more animated as she skipped around the stage, engaged in banter with the audience and flashed that radiant smile. ‘Lungs’ singles ‘Rabbit Heart’, ‘Dog Days Are Over’ and ‘Cosmic Love’ were clearly fan favorites, as was encore duo ‘Never Let Me Go’ and ‘No Light, No Light’. One of the only let-downs of the night was the absence of (my song of 2009) ‘Drumming Song’ and (arguably her most successful release) ‘You’ve Got the Love’. Otherwise, this was what I would term the perfect pop concert for non-pop fans… Not only were their plenty of intangibles which brought some X-factor, but it was ultimately Florence’s talent which shone through, since her magnificent voice simply could not be ignored. This is one arena show not to be missed.