Florence and the Machine at 3Arena, Dublin
The essence of Florence and the Machine, for me, can be found in a lesser known track from the quirky, shining debut album ‘Lungs’. ‘My Boy Builds Coffins’ blows slow and then fast, has humour and layers of nuance, takes a smidgen of deciphering, and feels personal without quite telling the whole story. It leaves space to implant your own more specific meaning, and, naturally, it’s vocally exceptional.
‘My Boy Builds Coffins’ is long since gone from the setlist, but the essence of it, the mildly gothic-pop self examination meets party vibe, hangs around as firmly as Ms Welch drags her audience kicking and screaming into a Wednesday night party at the 3Arena.
You see, Florence’s music speaks to an essential truth: depression hides in plain sight, sometimes at the heart of the party. We can be struggling to cope, but still capable of letting loose. In fact, it’s perhaps what we need most. Over the years, via a scribbled and soulful poetry and lyric book, and shows that Florence jokingly defends as “not a cult”, Florence and the Machine fans seem to have established a true sense of community, one that’s centred on what Florence most often does: examine her own darkness.
That is something of a theme to tonight’s show, heavily focused as it is on the record that lends its name to the tour: ‘Dance Fever’. With the tour having been sliced in two by a broken foot that Florence insisted on dancing on anyway, this show is the closer, and months overdue.
It takes three tracks, and the dropping of ‘Ship To Wreck’ for the elated chaos to descend. The stage show is a mix or artistry – use of shadows, bright mirror lighting, and a kind of ‘Florence floor’ where the star of the show resides, usually – and a happy letting loose.
There are parts of the early set, though, that do kind wax and wain. The highlight of the newest record is perhaps ‘Daffodil’, a jaggedy, edgy number that comes to life live in the company of some vibrant shape throwing on stage.
‘Morning Elvis’, ‘June’ and the poignant but sluggish ‘Girls Against God’, on the other hand, feel like the slow-down moments. They’re not bad, so much as low ebbs next to a sweeping tsunami of energy that forms the set’s heart.
‘Dog Days Are Over’, complete with an extended pause in which Florence persuades most of the audience to part with their phones and focus on the experience, offers a throwback to her brilliantly quirky early days, while ‘Hunger’ is the contrast, a latter-era classic of an earworm.
Throughout it all, the crowd interaction is intense. Half a dozen times, Florence’s dress flows as she sprints through the pit at stage front, stopping to hug, share lyrics, and smile relentlessly.
‘You’ve Got The Love’ has always been a sensationally well-suited cover, one that comes with a startlingly brilliant vocal for Florence to explore, and brings the house down, followed closely by ‘Choreomania’ something of a nothing song on the night, but one that’s used for the singer to run right to the back of the crowd and deliver a chorus from beneath the balcony, before jogging back to her stage.
Then there’s ‘Cosmic Love’, another smashing pop song evoking fate and wounds with subtle poetry. The soaring highs, of which there are many, need the quieter lows simply for the whole thing to feel balanced.
For the encore, Florence explains that she’s returned a song to the set, one that is too sad even by her standards, after a ten year absence. She adds that the track is also very vocally difficult, before kicking into a studio-perfect rendition of fan favourite ‘Never Let Me Go’.
The closing two are never quite going to match that emotion, but ‘Shake It Out’ – poignant soundtrack to a tearjerker Ted moment in How I Met Your Mother – and ‘Rabbit Heart’ are fiery closes seemingly designed specifically to go out with a bang.
This is not a greatest hits tour, and ‘Dance Fever’ is not Florence and the Machine’s finest moment. The pervasiveness of tracks from that record alone make this a less than perfect set. That said, there are enough carefully placed hits in here to whip up a storm, alongside a sense that Florence communes with her crowd as much as she plays. This is, as she says, not a cult, but it is a showcase of emotion, a nightly exercise in ripping out the heart, setting fire to it, and leaping through the ashes in the hope the whole thing soothes.
Put the less compelling moments aside, and you have perhaps 80 minutes of absolute genius, a singer who sounds so good live she could have recorded her entire back catalogue in single vocal takes, and a crowd engaged by a performance that feels designed, above all else, to connect to the heart.
Not flawless, but neither are any of us, and in many ways nodding to our own imperfections along the way, as Florence often does in her lyrics, feels like the whole point. Florence’s is a party filled with giving and joy – giving money to refugee charities, giving time to fans, and insisting we all travel her road with her. Florence wants us to know she’s imperfect, and that it’s OK to be so. She wants us to celebrate it. And she’s way, way too good at this to turn her down.