Florence + the Machine's Musical Thrill Ride - Live Review (Xfinity Center, Mansfield)
Guest-author Lori D Wright presents an exclusive review of Florence + the Machine's roaring concert at Mansfield's Xfinity Center (Massachusetts), 7th June 2016.
Photography exclusively shot for us by Matthew Shelter (Stage Light Photography)
The day was finally here. And could it be any more fitting that on this springy/summer day, the evening forecast had the possibility of thunderstorms and hail? This is not surprising when I know Florence is the goddess of the earthy elements; the signs of air and water adorn How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful's cover and all its merchandise. I had waited all year for the particular tour, and I had concerns the set would be cut short. Magically, as if Flo herself had smiled upon the venue, a double rainbow appeared as the sun dropped in the sky. Fittingly that night, she wore the yellow gown to declare there would be no rain that night, only sun and love.
As the smoke blew across the stage, the band began to take their places and the anticipation was palpable. My heart was racing knowing our Goddess would be walking out. Cue screams as she slowly walks out of the fog barefoot onto the stage. She walked out slowly, with a deliberate stride, approached the microphone, leaned over, hair over her face, arms outreached and with a subtle flick of her finger HERE WE GO! Time it took us…The song starts with only her voice escalating into the sky building up to the bass thumping crescendo until she gets to the chorus, voice thundering as if she were the daughter of Zeus himself. LAY ME DOWN…
Her voice was spectacular. I had worried the humidity would take its toll but it didn’t. Her voice, crystal clear, rang out true. Soft when it needed to be, then full out hurricane force when she asked for it. A couple of times I thought she would blow out the speakers and truly believed she could. Some artists don't sound as well live but not this band. It was exquisite, whether soft and low or full force. Flo’s voice never wavered, never cracked. It was beyond beauty. Yes, I cried.
The stage seemed so small, I kept looking at it, thinking Flo needed room to run free, that the small space couldn't contain her as she ran, leapt, spun, and thrashed about. The band rocked and rocked HARD! Chris looked like a man possessed. A figure hunched over the drums, sticks flying, hair plastered to his head - did I mention it was humid? Especially during Spectrum, he pounded the heck out of them! Rob’s guitar sounded so rich - I didn't know a guitar could produce such a deep, luscious sound. There are no words to tell you how much I love the two backup singers - their voices lift Flo and support her voice in ways I didn't know were possible. I love the blending of their voices. The 3-piece female horn section too… my God, I love them - the 3 horns transcend the set list into another world.
When the first beats of Rabbit Heart started my heart began to race again because I knew Flo would take off through the audience. I was able to position myself at the top of the aisle she had to run past on her return to the stage. I watched as she jumped on the sound table as the song closed out. I caught a quick glimpse of her running back to the stage. The more important part of this moment is a mother and daughter (perhaps 9, 10 years old?) were right there with me. Burned into my mind and heart is the mother pointing Flo out to the daughter, followed by the security person putting the little one on his shoulders so she could see Flo as she sings “this is a gift”. Truly a gift indeed.
As she began to sing Cosmic Love I noticed the backup singers and the drummer had exited the stage leaving Flo alone to sing. She toned back to showcase the simple beauty of the song and her voice without the big flourish of the drums and the lights. I actually prefer the full band on this song like she did during the Glastonbury set. It seems more emotional to me - I love the horns, bass, and drums in that version.
She acknowledged the crowd, asking who has been with her since Lungs, then welcomes the new fans describing the difference in the albums - the early ones with more screaming compared to HBHBHB, in which she sings a bit more.
Delilah was intense – she ran throughout the song as if running to something or from someone, yellow gown flowing/rippling as she ran. It looks chaotic but Flo FEELS the music, the brass section arrangements, the drums, the bass, the background singing, every nuance of the music. What could be seen as frenetic dance movements are really just her mind, body and soul in tune with each movement of the song.
She slows it down a bit - going into an acoustic Sweet Nothing. There is just her and the harp but you can see her hands moving as if she’s conducting an invisible, internal orchestra while she sings.
Before breaking into HBHBHB - she asked we put away our phones to enjoy the moment and be present. To basically fall in love with the moment as she had fallen in love with everything around her inspiring HBHBHB. She pointed out that there is always one guy in the crowd that doesn’t put away their phone. She asked that no-one be that guy, and telling us she would know. From my vantage point 3 rows behind the GA mosh pit from what I could see the crowd complied. During the song the set was a luscious shimmering blue behind her as she twirls during the song. She looks over the audience as she sings the last few notes of the song. The lights dim. the backdrop is washed in blue and the spotlight silhouettes her from behind a she does the HBHBHB dance. After the song ended she admitted she was dizzy from hitting herself in the face; hard I could hear the smack of her fist in her hand all the way to my seat in the crowd! Her poor feet; they must also be tired after running up and down the venue for 2 hours!
For her prior tour dates up until tonight, Flo has included Various Storms & Saints. She tells us how personal it is to her, that it took a lot of persuading to add it to the record. She tells us she is ready to share it now. She sings alone, eyes closed throughout most of the song. It was very moving.
Then she returns to rock on with Mother, Queen of Peace, and Spectrum - at one point asking us if we are ready to dance. You know we were! One girl at the front gave Flo a flower crown which she wore. When the song was over she ran back to return it. It was so cute - the girl saying no, it’s for you and Flo saying it looks better on the girl. Of course Flo got her way and the girl was left with one heck of a souvenir!
During the beginning strains of You Got The Love - she implores us to take the love we have out into the world. To spread it to others. And again, when the first notes of Dog Days hit, the audience erupted - at this point she commanded that the audience turn to one another and embrace each other, touch each other’s faces. The older gentleman (had to be in his 60s), turned to my friend – smiled, threw up his hands, shrugged then hugged her! Flo asked the audience to take off an article of clothing and wave it over their heads for love and peace. The audience happily complied with many at the front of the stage showering her with clothes. She had a bunch of shirts in her arms and started waving them as she ran back and forth on the stage.
Too quickly we are at the encore: What Kind of Man followed by Drumming Song. Flo violently commits to this song with body and soul. Throwing herself backwards across the stage as the backup singers sing “back, back, back against the wall”. I don't know how she stayed on her feet. At the end of WKOM she collapses on the stage with such force one worries that she may have broken another bone, but as the stage turns a brilliant red she rises like a phoenix as the first beats of Drumming Song shake the theater. With each thump of the drum the lights flash a blood crimson red as the lighting turns the entire theater into a deep luscious red, pounding out a heartbeat as a background to Flo’s voice. At the end she runs and lunges toward the crowd with such intensity, she looked as though she would fall in.
I was worried that the crowd were not true FATM fans and wouldn't know the words. I didn’t want Flo to be disappointed by the US crowds. But they knew most of the words and sang along during the night. The biggest response was for Dog Days – a huge roar of recognition rose. I wish it had been that way for every song! I am disappointed I did not buy a general admission ticket to stand in the pit. I’m 5’2 and have a hard time seeing over people but the mosh pit group seemed very orderly and I think I would have been okay in there. The venue could improve upon the large video screens; they were very grainy. In this day of HD I don't think there is any excuse for not having those updated.
I knew I had to see this tour because of the lighting and how it interacts with the 3 foot mirrors that dangle behind the band. Renowned lighting designer, Rob Sinclair designed a 48ft by 28ft ‘kinetic wall’ that shimmers and is in constant motion. Words can’t describe the effect the lights have when they hit them - gives me shivers with every song. The set designer and lighting director really designed a beauty of a concert with the lighting matching the beat of the music, the crescendos, and Chris’ driving drum beats. I honestly don't think there has ever been a more potent combination of performer, band, songs, stage, lighting - I think this is a perfect storm of elements making this the perfect concert - just plain perfection.
Watching Flo and her command of the stage, it’s hard to believe this is only the 3rd album. She rules the stage (reminds me of Elvis back in the early 70’s). I could watch this particular set over and over. The crowd watches her every move, responding to her stage direction - soften our voices then build up as the tension of the music increase to a deafening crescendo. Watching this connection between the crowd and Florence, one sees the parallel to Florence’s song Conductor. From the Xfinity Center at least, we know that she is truly the conductor of this musical thrill ride.
What The Water Gave Me
Ship To Wreck
Shake It Out
How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
Various Storms & Saints
Queen of Peace
You've Got The Love
Dog Days Are Over
What Kind of Man