After years of sold out tickets and missed dates, when I finally got my hands on a pair of Florence & The Machine tickets for Manchester last Friday, I was thrilled. I was especially over the moon considering the way I fell in love with ‘High as Hope’ in June. The album sang to me on so many levels, allowing me to connect to an artist and an album in a way I haven’t really done so before. Gorgeous, glittery and so Florence, the fact I got tickets for this tour was incredibly special.
The audience Manchester Arena welcomed on Friday was one of the most varied I have seen. Entire families, lovers, teenagers and people considerably older, the bands fan base was showcased like the rich tapestry it is. Nobody there trying to impress or ‘doing it for the gram’, which is rare in live music these days. Everybody was there for the music, which in itself elevated the atmosphere and embodied its inclusivity.
As the lights fell, The Machine entered the stage first, modestly descending and bowing to the crowd. Behind them followed Florence Welch. Like a muse, she floated onto the stage barefoot from the wooden-beamed set, her blush pink dress following with her. The crowd was in awe, and as the keys intro to ‘June’ began to pound, the arena stilled in a way I have never seen before. From this moment, I knew she had us in the palm of her hand.
The set was seamless and maintained momentum which saw the crowd never tire. From ‘June’ Florence danced into ‘Hunger’ which I don’t think anyone expected to see so soon into the set. She then moved from ‘High As Hope’ to her debut ‘Lungs’ for ‘Between Two Lungs’ which sounded absolutely huge. Then turning to ‘Ceremonials’, ‘Only If For A Night’ saw the entire arena erupt into a frenzy similar to the one we saw Florence erupt into at the end of ‘June’.
What was so striking was how someone so delicate and soft-spoken could have the voice and command a room the way Florence did. Her speaking voice between tracks was so soft that you almost had to strain to hear what she was saying- but you made sure you did. She spoke about her Mancunian brother-in-law and before ‘Patricia’ she told the crowd about the inspiration behind the track Patti Smith and toxic masculinity. She delicately said: “Well if you’re at a Florence and the Machine show, then you support and promote women. There’s no toxic masculinity in this room tonight.”
The band then turned back to ‘Lungs’ for ‘Dog Days Are Over’, before returning to ‘High As Hope’ for ‘100 Years’. Moving seamlessly into ‘Ship To Wreck’ from the unjustly under appreciated ‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful’, to reference a cliche, the atmosphere was electric. Florence and the band had such a noticeable chemistry, it was the true definition of artistry.
However, the highlight for me were the final tracks before the encore. At this point I’d hugged strangers, put my phone away when Florence commanded us to and contemplated taking my own shoes off. She’d had us from the start- but now we were truly in awe. Moving into ‘Cosmic Love’, a favourite of mine, Florence asked the crowd to light up the arena with their torches. Now this is an old trick in the book, granted, but when the harp started to play the intro and I looked around, it really looked like a night sky. There have been a few occasions I can list on one hand where I have felt my eyes well up at a gig. This was one of them.
For ‘Delilah’, she ran through the aisles to the centre of the standing area where she was lifted up by security and held into the crowd. Like a deity, everyone flocked to her, just wanting to get a little closer. Closing before the encore with ‘What Kind of Man’, I’d fallen even more in love with the band and didn’t want the night to end.
Returning to the stage, the band were greeted with the warmest of receptions. Starting with ‘Big God’ before getting the crowd to join in with ‘Shake It Out’, the night ended on a high with everyone wishing there could’ve been just one more song.
All biases of mine aside, this is one of the best live shows I have seen. The set list was heavily laced with new material, but this was the ‘High As Hope’ Tour after all. The staging was simple, which only served to draw emphasis on what was important- the music. Florence Welch has agency as the bands front which I believe will see her go down with the legends. She’s personable, yet ethereal and she’s delicate, yet commanding. Like a fine wine, the band just seems to get better and better and this was a gig I left feeling inspired and privileged to have witnessed.