Hope is British: Florence + the Machine in Washington, D.C.
I was shocked by many things at the October 6th Florence + the Machine concert at The Anthem in Washington, D.C. The first was simple: I could still hear after the roar of the crowd as the band took the stage. Not entirely sure I would recover enough to actually hear songs from the four albums produced by the band, I was grateful to hear the soft opening notes of “June,” a promise that my ears would wax and wane with screams of joy from the audience.
The second shock was the soft British accent behind the Florence Welch’s powerful voice, and it was this voice that entranced us. She set the tone, commanding like a siren. Yet, unlike like her ancient Greek counterparts, she wanted not to lure us into ruin but rather lead the audience to hope.
A Bigger Venue than I’m Used To
I’ve talked a lot about small venues and the intimacy established there. Florence shares the commanding singing voice of Mary Lambert, but the two differ distinctly in the cadence with which they speak to the audience. And I’m not flipping sides here; I personally still prefer small venues, but Florence + the Machine reminded me of the magic in sharing such a big space with so many people. I still think that the focus there is on the music rather than necessarily the musician. Likewise, that allows the connection to be forged through the songs, and Florence certainly provided that, curating the experience for the audience rather than focusing on herself.
…I personally still prefer small venues, but Florence + the Machine reminded me of the magic in sharing such a big space with so many people.
The concert was mostly general admission, so everyone pooled into the area in front of the stage at the Anthem. I found myself a place in the second row, and, without being too familiar with albums other than the band’s latest (High as Hope) and “Shake It Out” (because who isn’t?), I settled in.
There was a young man immediately in front of me, and he’d brought a delicately wrapped gift for Welch. I internally mused that it would likely be for naught. Yet, sure enough, Florence Welch ventured into the area immediately in front of the barricade, reaching for gifts passed to her graciously. Her gratitude was genuine and moving. These people believed their lives to have been changed by her, and in many ways, it seemed like she herself still couldn’t believe that was possible, despite the fame and attention she’d garnered around the world. People passed flowers, other wrapped gifts, and, as is common at the band’s shows, flower crowns.
“The stars, the moon, they have all been blown out.”
Florence + The Machine try to strip things back for a more intimate listening experience. So there are more ballads and the production tries to be more subtle, but there's really only so much you can do to hold down a voice as powerful as Welch's.
It takes a special personality to foster intimacy like Florence Welch does with her band when they take the stage. At one point in the concert, she asked the audience to put away their phones, commenting that if anyone was next to someone who didn’t want to heed this request, they should politely ask them to put them away because they were trying “to have an experience.”
Welch encouraged us to interact with one another, to give others hugs and say “I love you.” At another point, when singing “Cosmic Love,” Welch asked us to take out our phones and to turn on the flashlights, waving them like a concert classic while still being new, creating a cosmos filled with flashlight stars in The Anthem. Amidst this, Welch sung: “The stars, the moon, they have all been blown out.”
Florence offered to us the necessity of hope…
Beth Ditto opened for Florence + the Machine, and as she was about to leave stage, she noted how wonderfully British the lead singer is. Not to stereotype but acknowledging that this is perhaps the only stereotype Florence Welch fits, her cadence and approach to the audience could only be described as British. She was very polite, vaguely shy, and she lulled us into a trance that had only positive effects.
Florence offered to us the necessity of hope, just as Mary Lambert and Tracy K. Smith did. These poets, singers, and artists seem to all be calling for something, something as high as hope.