Florence and the Machine – Concert Review

By Kelly Nakashima

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By Kelly Nakashima |Staff Writer | April 28, 2012 

(Photo/Kelly Nakashima)

“Can you see the North Star?”

These were among the first words that Florence Welch spoke to a packed amphitheater at the Santa Barbara Bowl on April 14, the first North American gig for Florence and the Machine’s Ceremonials tour.

It was a brief moment of lucidity for this British songstress, who is notorious for her hypnotic, occasionally frenzied performances, and yet another indication that Florence Welch is not entirely a creature of the earth.

If her music, with its tortured Jane Eyre lyrics of “love and death, time and pain, heaven and hell” isn’t any indication, then perhaps it is her striking appearance.

(Photo/Kelly Nakashima)

Swathed in a black gossamer cape, she appeared more like a feathered sphinx or an exotic bird, betrayed only by a crown of that legendary hair, scarlet letter hair that lived up to its infamy when shocks of it flew loose as she spun, leapt, and sashayed with the frenzy of a cultist, the intensity of a mystic, the artlessness of a child, and the verve of a natural-born dancer.

And if it is none of these that so thoroughly captivates, then it must be her voice itself, which managed to descend from the open air above, and at the same time emerge from a breath in the listener’s ear.

It is the voice that Florence fanatics love to imagine was crafted by alchemical experiment or oceanic myth, a voice that conjures images of phantasmagoric beauty–the mystique of a solar eclipse, the velocity of a supernova, the splendor of northern lights–but if that seems entirely too epic to be true, you simply haven’t heard Florence Welch sing in person.

(Photo/Kelly Nakashima)

Not that the atmosphere of a Florence concert is any different from her Katy Perry or Gaga counterparts: the kaleidoscope of cell phones and lighters, the rhythmic thud of Doc Martens and McAllister boots, the stench of beer and smoke afloat a screaming mass.

What sets Florence apart from her mainstream contemporaries – dare I say subordinates? – is that, despite the sensationalist sensibilities of her audience, her dramatic persona is never used for the sake of shock-value.

Yet her performance was no less captivating than anything Bowl patrons have seen before, perhaps even more so (and that was with no cupcake brassieres involved).

This show in particular was remarkably short (1 ½ hours), and remarkably straightforward (no costume or set changes), probably due to the fact that she was on her way to Indio for the Coachella Festival, where plenty of her flowy-haired, sun-kissed, and tastefully-tattooed fans gathered in anticipation.

So if you prefer megastars who milk the crowd for the last applause, or superdivas who swap a meat dress for an egg cove in a single blink, then Florence and the Machine is most certainly not your cup of tea.

Not that this pop goddess doesn’t know how to amp up the theatrics, but a gold-laced, black velvet catsuit and a crown of flowers seemed entirely appropriate for the occasion: a night of music and revelry with, as Florence herself described it, “the stars above and the city lights there in the distance.”

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