It was a huge crowd last night at the Spark Arena in Auckland, NZ for the pop Goddess that is Florence + the Machine. Hot on the heels of headlining at St Jerome's Laneway Festival 2019 in Auckland, this show was the last in their Australian/New Zealand tour.
Supporting was Yellow Days, also fresh from Laneway and with a sound that would have worked better on the smaller Festival stage. In the arena setting with an audience pumped for Flo, Yellow Days only raised a lukewarm appreciation from the largely twenties something crowd. But their offbeat soul with songs like What’s It All For set a nice vibe.
Yellow Days aka George van den Broek has a unique soul voice even if his sound didn’t find its home in the arena sound set-up. With yelps and growls, some of the upper range vocals came over with a touch too much rasp but he has a great croon quality in his lower notes and a cool expressive style. His vocal sound and songwriting is more seasoned than his nineteen years. The best of their set was the final song How Can I Love You with a jazz piano intro, funk bass undertones and nice bending of notes on van den Broek’s Vox teardrop guitar in a final delivery before departing …“thank you for listening even if our sounds are not what you expected.”
Then as the lights dimmed and the audience hushed, the ‘Machine’ band arrived on stage followed by the goddess herself. Opening with June, Florence Welch positioned herself front of the stage like the glorious figurehead of a mighty ocean schooner, hair and pale gossamer gown flowing in the wind.
Setting down stunning vocals into the song, Welch then took flight across the stage... leaping and tossing her long flaming hair which ignited the crowd and set the night on fire. And that was just the first song.
Next came Hunger which delivered personal lyrics that reached deep into everyone’s experience “At seventeen I started to starve myself, I thought that love was a kind of emptiness”. And searing vocals in Between Two Lungs with truly decent backing vocals augmenting the depth of this band’s sound.
This is not pop that rests on commercially viable hook-lines, it’s digging deeper into hearts and souls with a soaring range of full-blooded voice, beautiful instrumentation and chest-thumping beats.
Musically, Welch has a range of soul riffs and offbeat pop rhythms to draw on which we hear on her studio recordings. But it is on a live stage that you realise the depth of talent and passion that lights up when she performs. In Only If For A Night, Welch’s feet never touched the ground... she was an unearthly being, a pre-Raphelite Queen Titania.
Having invited the entire arena of seated folk to their feet, the audience was united in movement with her into Queen Of Peace which began in quieter waters that allowed the incredible harp sounds from Tom Monger to shine.
It was not just song and dance but a deep and long lasting connection that exists between Florence + the Machine and New Zealand... Florence took a breath and slowed the night down to share that New Zealand has been part of their growing up as a band. Their first headlining appearance was for Laneway Festival in Auckland in 2010 and she thanked the crowd ‘for being with them and supporting all their growing pains’ right from the beginning. Welch commented that the best collective togetherness was right here in Auckland and invited the audience to connect to each other for the next song. Such was her warmth that many obliged and linked up with their neighbour for South London Forever as orchids and flowers burst open on the large video screens “Outside the Joiners Arm's like foals unsteady on their feet …High on E and holding hands with someone that I just met”.
It was for Patricia that the connection to the audience found its core, written as an homage to Patti Smith, it’s mainly an honouring ‘each time I sing this song, she is with me’. But at its centre, the lyrics turn to toxic masculinity and the delivery of these shot straight into her audience with immense power. Welch’s range of expression and power is supernova... I’ve not heard a female vocalist on the pop/rock stage deliver such extraordinary stamina and expression through a whole big night, especially for the last show of a huge tour.
Florence Welch is no ordinary singer, she truly is made of astonishing stuff with virtuosic vocals that never miss a beat.
Not only talent, Florence took a huge risk and probably scared the pants off her security staff by taking off into the depths of the standing crowd in Delilah. I sincerely hope she was respectfully handled when she launched herself into waiting hands and arms in What Kind Of Man, creating a pyramid of adoration with her at the crown. And with the stunning beauty of her voice in Sky Full of Song from her latest album High As Hope, she created a full experience of the shining talent that is Florence + the Machine.
An encore of Moderation that gave us an edgy almost post-punk sound, Big God that lifted the rafters and finally the festive celebration of Shake It Out as confetti filled the air with gold... and the star that is Florence Welch tore the stage up in her last possessed dance of the evening.
What a huge and memorable night!
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Released: 29 Jun 2018