On Friday night last, Florence and her ever-present Machine dropped in to the O2 Dublin to kick off her spanking new “Ceremonials” tour. The choice of Dublin to begin her stint on the road was no doubt an effort to take a decent run-up to her UK and US dates, but this is not to say the performance felt half-hearted, or indeed half-lunged. Quite the opposite.
UK band The Horrors, militant champions of the skinny jeans/leather jacket combo, gave a lacklustre and lifeless opening performance (unfortunate for them after a rousing set from Delorentos sound-alikes Spector, who are definitely one to watch over the festival season.) The Horrors were, as their name might suggest, horrible. Luckily, they cleared off by 9:30, and the stage was (literally) set for Florence’s return to an Irish crowd.
At last the packed house was plunged into darkness, and the first few notes of “Only If For the Night” sent the already-buzzing crowd into an absolute frenzy. Florence, tightly wrapped in a black catsuit and ornately designed cape, waltzed out to a deafening response. This mellow and rhythmic song (the first track of “Ceremonials”) was an unexpected opener, but not an entirely objectionable one, as Florence drew us slowly into the hypnotic mystique of her show. By the time it drew to a close, we were ready to dance.
Dance we did. Next up was the first release from “Ceremonials”, the swaggering “What the Water Gave Me,” which packs a hell of a lot more punch performed live than on the record. Drawing into the final pounding chorus, it seemed as if the show had eventually settled into its swing – the ever-appreciative crowd going supersonic with approval.
After the lesser-known “Strangeness and Charm”, (an under-appreciated gem from the “Between Two Lungs” Album), the show well and truly kicked off, with my favourite song of all time: Cosmic Love. An absolute belter of a song, a part of me feared that perhaps Florence had played her ace card too early. As pumping and passionate as it was (and believe me, it was), surely hearing your favourite song ten minutes into a gig is bound to render the rest of the set a bit underwhelming?
Florence seemed to have foreseen this problem, and the following few numbers continued to build on the foot-stomping frenzy which “Cosmic” had laid down. “Shake It Out” and “Dog Days Are Over” followed in quick succession, leaving all on the ground floor gasping for breath, water and blister-plasters.
The next few songs included several acoustic pieces, “Leave My Body” and “Heartlines” among them. While ornate and well-crafted, these songs were evidently not as well-known by a lot of the crowd, who could have benefitted from a few listens to the album’s more reflective second act. Florence worked hard to keep up the energy, interacting adorably with the crowd, and giving shout-outs to all and sundry who could hold up a placard (“Megan Byrne” must still be picking herself up off the floor).
“Rabbit Heart”, an old favourite from “Lungs”, rounded off an energy-packed set, and many (included yours truly) were glad of a few moments to catch their breath as we waited for the inevitable encore. One song which I had been longing for throughout the whole set, “Never Let Me Go”, remained elusive, and I hoped that the encore would make all the hours of shower-singing pay off.
Indeed it did. With “Never Let Me Go”, Florence proved to all why she is the best-loved female vocalist in the world today. Her soaring vocal and inimitable stage presence made this one of the most electrifying encore performances I had ever seen. Though some have questioned Florence’s ability to sing live, this was, without exception, an astounding vocal performance. Everyone’s favourite redhead danced, pranced, ran, jumped and beamed, all while delivering a spine-chilling vocal performance, probably the finest I’ve ever seen live. Epic stomp anthem “No Light, No Light” brought the set to a stunning end, leaving us in no doubt that we had just witnessed one of the best gigs of the year.
It was disappointing to see that some old favourites have fallen foul of the new album, with “Howl”, “Drumming Song” and “Kiss With a Fist” all dropped from the set. They may make a comeback later on down the road, but for now Florence is concentrating on her new material. She seems to know that, playing to her strengths, and there was thankfully not one damp squib of a song throughout the whole evening. She herself was radiant, more restrained than her swirling self at Oxegen ’10, but still a potent and exhilarating presence onstage. As already mentioned, her vocal performance was astonishing, surely the most important thing of all. For die-hard fans, a biblical night, and for the newly initiated, a thumping good collection of tunes which will surely encourage them to delve deeper into Florence’s cannon, where there are many more great songs to be discovered.
High Point: The achingly beautiful “Never Let Me Go”, subtle and striking in its stripped-down form.
Low Point: A limp and uninspiring set from The Horrors. Spector, however, are definitely worth a Google.