FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE
Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney. March 13
SAYING FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE GO BIG is like saying Hugh Grant didn’t want to be on the Oscars red/champagne carpet, or Naatu Naatu had some dance moves. In fact a proper Oscars reference would say Flo & The Mo in concert is Everything Everywhere All At Once.
And, as it should be, that’s a seven trophy compliment.
Drums in the quasi-metal Daffodil land like the punches Florence Welch throws to start the night, and the harp ripples like the manifold drapes of her peignoir (an outfit style repeated a hundred fold in the flower crown-bedecked audience). Backing vocals expand to choir invisible status in the florid Dream Girl Evil, and Ship To Wreck comes at us with the same Hussars-charging fervour coming from the bouncing mosh pit.
And this on a mostly bare stage set at the back with what might be a multi-tiered wedding table from a desolate wedding day with candle wax covering every element. Druids are in the room; Miss Haversham is in the house.
This is the concert we should have had last year when restrictions finally were loosened and everyone ran free like Year 3s at the 3pm bell. This is the concert we should have any time someone tells us that the only way to do pop shows is to bung on the dancers and turn up the taped sounds, or ramp up the teen screams.
Not that this is missing physicality or audience involvement. As she sings in the booming Big God, perched on the front barricade, held up by hands and hope, “You need a big god, big enough to hold your love/You need a big god, big enough to fill you up”.
Watching Welch run through the crowed during one of her most Kate Bush moments, Choreomania – a word for the kind of manic dancing that might once have been called St Vitus’ Dance – is to feel the electric surge of a contact high. Lord knows what a charge it must give her. To feel the waves of voices hitting like the pounding feet rhythm of (a thrilling) Dog Days Are Over is to be reminded that heart-starters is not just an expression.
A decade ago, in the Opera House, Welch played a show shorn of most of the Machine, an orchestra taking their place. Its setlist leant heavily into the grand, tragi-romances end of her repertoire, and theoretically should have been a Big Dramatic Pop success. It wasn’t, because the light and shade was missing, the flourishes only having one expression. There’s no such mistake here: instead of blurring the emotional faultlines, the shifting tenor emphasises each one.
When June rises, it feels insistent, inexorable, a tide of emotion that is taking you with it. Prayer Factory is Gothic splendour writ small, or at least short, its ghostly presence meaty rather than ephemeral.
And Girls Against God – as in Hunger, the measuring against and rejecting of our more pressing anti-female motifs remains core material for Welch and is no small factor in the devotion of her audience – is both firm and quivering.
Firm and quivering, rather like her voice, that thunder-and-waterfall weapon which in most songs comes to knock down the walls of Jericho without need for piddling trumpets.
So, yes, big. Michelle Yeoh flying kick in your face-level big.
Florence And The Machine play Brisbane Entertainment Centre, March 17, A Day On The Green, Sirromet Wines, March 18
A version of this review ran originally in The Sydney Morning Herald.