“Is it a cult? Is it a Pagan gathering? Is it a haunted house opera?” Florence Welch asks it best herself on stage at the O2 on November 18th. The question comes in the middle of 'Dog Days Are Over' as she asks two things of her audience: to put their phones away and jump as fast as physically possible as the chorus crescendos. Tragedy and injury aside, the show is a triumph of her ‘Dance Fever’ tour, it is Florence at her best: whimsical and ethereal, and if it is a cult, there is not a single member of the audience, myself included, who doesn’t want to throw themselves head first into the deep end of it. It’s hard not to be enchanted, watching Florence spin and twirl, never stopping moving in her deep red gothic gown. She is a flame setting the entire arena alight with music, so bright I think she must be setting the whole of London ablaze.
The first of two planned nights at the O2 Arena is now sadly the last show of her tour this year, as a result of the frenzied passion of the night. About halfway through the show Florence mentions a foot injury she has in an offhand manner, pointing out the blood on the stage as a result of her barefoot frolicking. Several more times that night she runs off stage quickly to have the injury looked at, but comes back, smiling and reassuring the audience each time, continuing to run and swing as if uninhibited. Her movements and vocals are so unaffected you wouldn’t be able to tell that she’s hurt without her backstage excursions, which is why it was so shocking the next day to go on Instagram and see her post saying she has to delay the second O2 show, and the rest of the tour, by a year as she has actually broken her foot. The heartbreak of this was almost overshadowed by my admiration for her dedication; carrying on a show with a broken bone is a level of commitment reminiscent of Dave Grohl’s similar incident with his leg in 2015: both of them displays of pure professionalism.
It would be a crime, however, to let this incident overshadow the performance the band put on that night. Florence began the show emerging from rising chandeliers, draped in fabric like the altar she performed in front of. She moved to each song like something between a witch and a religious figure, whipping her hands and hair around in a hypnotic manner, striking dramatic poses, her hands flung out like a crucified Christ. Starting with her latest Grammy-nominated hit ‘King’, she led the audience through a mix of old favourites such as ‘You Got the Love’ and ‘Kiss With a Fist', alongside newer songs like ‘Morning Elvis’ and ‘Dream Girl Evil’. The crowd were worshipping her the entire time, and even more intensely after she spent several songs off-stage holding the front row’s hands and running through the arena.
Florence was joined on stage by warm-up acts Aziya and Willie J Healey. Both held their own on stage with Aziya bringing a youthful punk-feminine attitude to the stage; she conversed with the audience and talked about the inspiration behind some of her songs, like ‘girl meets world’, which symbolises her confusion with the current state of the world. Healey on the other hand brought a Kooks-like attitude and hairstyle, and a steady stream of dance moves, as he played his own songs like ‘Subterraneans’. They were surprising picks to introduce Florence and the Machine, but held their own right as independent artists, rather than leaning into the fairy circle of Florence’s influence.
The ‘machine’ also brought their flawless talent to the show. They switched instruments seamlessly: harps, violins and keyboards were among some of the instruments I counted when I could tear my eyes away from the hypnotising movements of Welch. Tom Monger, Dionne Douglas, Aku Orraca-Tetteh, Robert Ackroyd, Cyrus Bayandor and Loren Humphrey were essential in keeping the show flowing elegantly, especially in the brief moments where Florence herself was indisposed. Douglas’s golden dress was almost as beautiful as her violin playing and more than worthy of a mention.
It is no doubt a crime against music and a general injustice that this tour has been cut short, because I can confidently say that this was one of the best live performances that I have seen in years. It was a seamless blend of showmanship, talent and skill from everybody involved. Florence has confirmed that she will be continuing the tour next year when she has recovered, and I would urge anyone who has the chance to get tickets to grab them with both hands, and not let go until you can safely see the stage.
Edited by Talia Andrea, Music Editor