It’s hard to imagine a more pristine and picturesque setting for a four-night run of shows, other than overlooking Sydney Harbour, the Harbour Bridge, and the world famous sails of the Opera House. For a select few thousand punter on a wet Friday night, this is exactly the view that was afforded to them, as they took in the beauty of the city and the magical vocals and presence of Florence + The Machine.
Acting ably as main support for the night was Sydney band Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders. If you’re unfamiliar with the band, picture smooth looking musicians, caramel vocals, and cruisey tunes; all in the same vein as Nick Cave. Playing a 45-minute set, the band was flawless through out the continually flawed weather, whilst repeatedly thanking Florence for having them on tour with her and the band. Closing out with current single “To Keep & To Be Kept”, they set in flight what was to come for the rest of the night.
Florence Welch is a dominating character. She commands the stage, and you’re drawn by her allure. Her on-stage presence, her ethereal presence, her flowing red head, her bare feet all culminate in a performer who knows how to get and maintain the crowd’s attention. Opening the night with “What The Water Gave Me”, I was thrown back to the first time I’d seen her, back on her Ceremonials world tour of 2012. At the time, I didn’t like this track, but the way she performed the track that night changed my view on it forever. It was forceful, yet delicate.
You’d think that after a run of complaints surrounding sound issues at the venue in the previous week, the Opera House would have worked out any problems. Unfortunately, while at times the sound was reasonable, you shouldn’t be able to audibly hear the entire conversation of the people next to you, all of 20 metres from centre stage. Where the sound let her down, Florence’s exuberance and show-womanship came through. “Ship To Wreck” was the first introduction to touring album How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, while Florence pleaded with the crowd to get as high as they could before bursting into “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)”. Her following run, sing and dance through out the Opera House steps and crowd was something to behold. She was one with the crowd. It was bloody beautiful.
A mid set highlight was “Shake It Out”. I’d imagine this is what it’s like to reach 100% bliss. Her red locks flowing to the glittery stage back drop, it was a spiritual experience to behold, while the horn section only made it so much more enthralling. The minimalist interpretation of “Cosmic Love” was outstanding. Her anecdote about writing the track with the worst hangover of all time only made you want to love her that bit more. Speaking of the influence Neil Young had on How Big, the eleven piece band moved into a rendition of “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t picture Neil Diamond and kind of anticipated a “Sweet Caroline” cover. Florence would have pulled that off too.
It became apparent on “Queen of Peace” that Florence was indeed the Queen of peace, love and bare feet, as she bounded flawlessly around the stage. “Sprectrum” saw the rise of tempo, heartbeats and precipitation levels. She’d asked the crowd to get up and dance; had I’d known it was a going to be a rain dance, my enthusiasm might have been a little reserved. Closing out the main set with fan favourite “Dog Days Are Over”, the punters were asked to remove a piece of clothing, and thus metaphorically lose any problems they may have been carrying. What proceeded was four minutes of joy, excitement and copious items of clothing being flung erratically in the air.
Returning to play an encore of “Mother” and “Drumming Song”, the atmosphere was heavy, the weather was worse, but Florence and The Machine absolutely smashed it. To play in the serene setting of Sydney Harbour must be a highlight and privilege for musicians. This aside, it was a delight and absolute pleasure to witness the magic of Florence Welch and her machine.
They’re a rule unto themselves, and honestly, they could have done whatever they wanted on stage; it would have been magical regardless.