Florence + the Machine Stun at War Child 2016 [Review]

(c) Antony Zacharias

Florence + the Machine and churches have become somewhat synonymous; religious symbols feature heavily throughout their music and videos alike. Thus, when I discovered I'd be attending the  intimate gig for charity War Child, hosted by O2 at St John's at Hackney, the offer was impossible to turn down. Ever since discovering her music in 2008, I've longed to see her perform in a church, and I'm glad I picked this one. 

We arrived shortly after 4:30pm, which was disappointing because we quickly learnt that Florence had actually emerged to meet fans ten minutes before our arrival. We told ourselves it was for the best because one of us probably would've fainted (...I'm still not sure I believe myself), but the fans that did meet her did so deservedly. Some had been camping outside since 12pm, and it was a bitterly cold day. The first things that struck me were actually the shortness of the queue, and the fluffy white duvets that the first few people in the queue were snuggling under - it did make me quite envious!

The sun began to dissolve (casual Queen of Peace reference), and the queue grew longer and longer. We mingled with other fans, who chatted excitedly about everything from the last time they saw Florence + the Machine, to shared admiration for each others Paisley waistcoats; yep, this was definitely a Florence gig...but Florence + the Machine fans are definitely the nicest people to queue with.

Then suddenly, our of nowhere, the "O2 Angels", in an act of divinity, descended upon the crowds with the holy elixir that is commonly known as water, and pizza. Yes, freshly made pizza! The crowds attacked it like something from the Walking Dead (more of this later), and it tasted exceptionally good. Then, the huge doors to the magnificent church flew open, and we were allowed to trickle through to the main hall. 

The hall itself was beautiful; an impressive organ stood at the back (I won't lie, I almost expected Isabella Summers to float down and kick off the show blasting the organ to the intro of Shake It Out but alas), and a bright "War Child" symbol was projected onto the ceiling. We secured a left-front position at the barrier and held on tightly. Before long, Florence and the band emerged from the side of the stage to an enormous roar, took their spots, and thus started the twinkling of the harp to cue Cosmic Love.

From the outset, people were screaming requests, from Hospital Beds, to Which Witch. "Which Witch?!" Florence exclaimed, "that's literally nothing but drums and trumpet. It would sound really, really weird acoustic...". In fact, the whole set was acoustic (or at least if you count drums too, although paradoxically Drumming Song was without), and it made the atmosphere twinkle with even more magic. It also allowed the sheer power of those lungs to shine brighter than ever before. The setlist was as follows:

Cosmic Love

St Jude

Drumming Song

Queen of Peace

Third Eye

Only if For a Night


Silver Springs [Fleetwood Mac Cover]

Long and Lost

Sweet Nothing

What Kind of Man

Ship to Wreck


Shake it Out

Dog Days are Over

(C) Antony Zacharias

Florence's voice was the best it has ever sounded, with soaring highs in Long and Lost, belts lasting fifteen seconds during Drumming Song, and flittering vocals for Caught. Heartlines and Only if For a Night made a welcome return to the setlist (I even was serenaded at one point during the former song, with Florence pointing right at me singing "in some way I'm there with you, up against the wall on a Wednesday afternoon". It was a Friday but I was willing to let that one go), and Ship to Wreck was by far the most energetic song of the night. It was slightly ruined by one girl screaming "TO WREEEECK" directly in my ear but I don't particularly blame her. 

What was nice was that, despite it being a charity gig, lots of fans were present. People were singing along to almost every song, clapping to every beat, and even without the usual strip-request during Dog Days, people were still throwing flowers and coats at Florence. 
Objects weren't the only things being thrown to the band; exclamations of "I LOVE YOU", "MARRY ME" and "HOW DO YOU SCREAM SO GOOD?!" were flying from all around the hall. After Sweet Nothing, the guy next to me caught Florence's attention for the third time that night by shouting "IT SOUNDS BETTER WITHOUT CALVIN". Florence shied behind her hand before replying "I won't tell!" 

Florence's friends and family were also present (her dad's bright white hair shining like a beacon from the balcony above), with Florence stopping before "What Kind of Man" to explain that her dad has always wanted her to write happy songs, of which she has about 3 - "funnily enough, this next one is sad...like, REALLY sad". Nonetheless, it was beautiful to hear it acoustically. Oh, and this one's sad...and this one...and this one" was an interlude between each song, until finally "AH the one at the end is happy!"

Queen of Peace stole the show, however, with the ending blowing the audience - but not driving them - away. To much delight, Florence also covered Fleetwood Mac for the second time ever. "This is one we've never played live before", to which she added "it's not a new song...it's actually quite old" when fans started cheering at the prospect of new material. And I think that's the other aspect of this gig that was so special; despite Florence stating how intimidating small venues are, she was so interactive. She even threw a fan her water bottle when she shouted that she was really thirsty - "gotta stay hydrated to sing!" Another interaction came as a surprise, when a fan asked about a new tattoo he spotted. "OH, this!" she said, looking nervously at her wrist "it says "How Beautiful" - I got it to remind me that although I went through a really tough time, it all meant something, and it all turned out to be beautiful in a different way". 

And that's exactly what this gig was, beautiful. As the energy of Dog Days faded with the last crashes of the drums, no one moved towards the door as the lights flicked on. "We want more, we want more...Florence, Florence, Florence" chanted the audience, holding position for 10 minutes longer, until there was a collective realisation that goodness can't last forever. Then returned the second The Walking Dead moment, as hands stretched like possessed zombies across the barriers to secure a setlist, a flower, or a guitar pick. When the crowd died down and the extent of the clear-up became apparent (a lot of people were drinking coca-cola...), we managed to catch Vladis the lone trumpet player, who was extremely lovely to us. I ended up following Rusty out of the venue (Isa was also there but wasn't performing on stage), and made my way home, reeling from the thought of how Florence + the Machine can turn such a mundane week into magic. Until next time...