Florence and the Machine | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
Florence and the Machine takes the Wells Fargo Center out of its comfort zone with a propulsive set
“Now, Philadelphia, we’re going to do something very strange,” Florence Welch told a packed house at the Wells Fargo Center. “It’s going to make you feel weird, it’s going to make you feel uncomfortable and very vulnerable. But do you trust me?”
It was hard to know how to respond to that, exactly. This came after the frontperson and namesake of theatrical modern rock juggernaut Florence and the Machine had asked the entire arena to hold hands and sway to the dramatic swell of “South London Forever.” It was after she told us to turn to whoever was standing next to us, friend or stranger, and tell them that we loved them. On the one hand, there was a sense of “what now?” On the other hand, it’s not as though anything bad had happened thus far. Though Welch joked about making the evening “extra hippie,” the crowd participation component of last night’s Florence and the Machine concert was clearly intended to get us out of our comfort zones, to break down the walls that we’d built between ourselves and the outside world, but also to bring the room together as one.
The weird, uncomfortable request was actually not as outlandish as her setup suggested. Welch simply wanted everybody to put their cell phones away, and with their hands free, reach to the sky, leap up and down in unison, and release whatever negative energy we’d been carrying as “Dog Days Are Over,” the first big hit from this ten-years-running band, galloped to a conclusion. Remarkably, the arena obliged, and resulting moment was indeed a thing of beauty.
Welch has always been a high-energy, kinetic, interactive artist, going back to her band’s first Philadelphia gig at the TLA some ten years ago. And even with her dramatically increased profile since those early days, she does not exempt herself from those situations of vulnerability.
Between songs, she spoke candidly about mental health, about love, about the need to vote. She alluded to emotional and physical turbulence in her teens to late twenties that led to the writing of “South London”: “If you’re still in that swamp, I’m with you, I believe in you,” she said. “It’s not less complicated on the other side, it’s just different.”
Welch also weighed in on the general state of global sociopolitical malaise, saying “My heart hurts every day for so many reasons…but please, do not give up hope, please keep doing good in the ways you can, don’t think it won’t make a difference. A revolutionary consciousness starts with individuals, and that’s you.”
Though she refrained from naming the specific persons or causes for that hurt, we got some context during a powerful performance of “Patricia” from the band’s 2018 LP High as Hope. The song was about and dedicated to punk poet Patti Smith, Welch said, “except for this very specific, angry part in the middle that’s not about her. It’s about toxic masculinity. But it’s safe to say that there’s not a lot of toxic masculinity at a Florence and the Machine show. If you’re here, you believe women. Rage with us.”
Then there were the moments of physical vulnerability that Welch clearly had little fear of. During a propulsive performance of Florence and the Machine’s current banger “Hunger,” she sprinted like a track star in a diaphanous dress from one side of the stage to the other, leaping barefoot up the curving cake-like tiers of freshly constructed plywood as though splinters were of no concern. (Stage hands did spend a solid half hour sanding and sweeping the stage before the band emerged at 8:30 to the atmospheric tones of “June.”) More impressively, Welch descended to the floor, raced around the perimeter of the arena, and ran directly into the ecstatic open arms of the general admission floor — taking a moment to dance with one young fan decked out in a light-up cape — singing “Delilah” into a wireless mic while surrounded by thousands of camera phone-bearing, elated fans. (“Take that, guy from The National,” my wife turned to me and said at this point.)
As Welch whipped around the room, her eight-piece band kept the music moving with tight precision: Isabella Summers and Hazel Mills juggled multiple duties between keys and vocals, guitarist Robert Ackroyd played with tones and soundscapes, and the rhythm section of Cyrus Bayandor on bass, Loren Humphrey on drums, and Aku Orraca-Tetteh on percussion and vocals brought roof-raising noise to the fray. But as loud as it got, the band allowed enough space for nuanced bits from harpist Tom Monger and violinist Dionne Douglas to shine through. The band was big and bold, but never distracting from the woman of the hour. And though the setlist was only 16 songs long on paper, by the time glitter rained down from the rafters on the closing “Shake It Off,” the experience in the room felt like so much more — electric, engaging and uplifting.
The show was opened with a set from long-running Brooklyn psych rock torch-bearers Grizzly Bear, and though the beautifully esoteric soundscaping of their early-catalog cuts like “Fine For Now” evaporated a bit in the big arena, their pop hits like “Two Weeks” connected more successfully. Check down below for photos of their set, as well as a full show gallery, a Florence and the Machine setlist, and a selection of fan videos of the concert from YouTube.
Florence and the Machine setlist
Between Two Lungs
Only If for a Night
Queen of Peace
South London Forever
Dog Days Are Over
Ship to Wreck
The End of Love
What Kind of Man
Shake It Out