By Louise Wylie
Florence Welch is shy, she says. It might not seem like it with the ferocious singing and even bolder dancing, but, she explains, it’s the talking that’s hard.
It’s understandable when you’re playing for a packed venue of 13,000 people, but it doesn’t feel that large from the other side of the stage. Even from the gods at the Hydro in Glasgow, a Florence and the Machine gig never feels remote. Instead it feels uniquely human.
In the quiet spaces between songs she’s vulnerable. She speaks of her struggle with drink, but asks if we’d then like to raise a G&T to her Glaswegian granny Cybil – the inspiration for so many of her songs.
The performance is a different beast entirely.
Florence is a whirlwind of movement, her leaps and sprints and frenzied swipes at the air, culminating in what can only be described as a madcap dash into the packed crowd. She races barefoot through the amazed fans, singing to the fullest of her lungs, with her security chasing a long way behind. The fact that her hair-raising voice seems to be little impacted is staggering.
Her talent never fails to stun. Alone, unsupported, it’s enough to give you full body goosebumps. And when her vocals are supported, the experience deepens into visceral emotion.
Isabella Summers on the keyboard lifts the songs to a new level, while lead guitarist Robert Ackroyd gives intensity and ups the pace. The Machine has always been well oiled and this latest tour is no exception.
Tracks from latest album, High as Hope, reveal more of the Florence that was hinted at in previous work. At times she’s classically ethereal, at others magnetically seductive, but always driven by some energetic inner force. During Hunger she gyrates and turns from a hippie goddess into something far more tangible.
Yet it’s the much beloved early hits which get the strongest reaction from the crowd. The ancient tradition of artists asking their fans to light up their phone torches even feels fresh when used as a backdrop to Cosmic Love.
It’s better yet when the phones go off. The band won’t play fan favourite Dogs Days Are Over until every phone is tucked away. “We’re going to have an experience,” Florence cries. “And it won’t be saved or shared.”
The whole night is unapologetically feminist. Florence asks us to hold hands and tell strangers we love them, to jump away our fears and above all, be kind. Fist in the air, she cries out “I believe her, I believe her, I believe her”.
It’s a much needed break from a world which appears dedicated to being cruel to women. Exhausted by the daily struggles of existing in a society which was never intended for us, marginalised people can find rejuvenation in Florence and the Machine’s work. And what does she want us to take from her performances? Hope.