Performing in Birmingham on the resumed Dance Fever tour, Florence Welch stopped to address her audience: “I will bet that in here there are probably some chaperones, unwilling partners dragged along to some random concert – and you’re probably thinking, what the hell am I doing here?”. A few people reluctantly cheered, which was met with a wave of laughter around the arena that included Welch herself. “I get it. You’re probably thinking, have a joined a cult? Am I safe? My advice to you is… just let it happen. And remember to do everything I say.”
If being a fan of Florence and the Machine is equivocal to being in a cult, I have probably been indoctrinated for an unhealthy amount of time—despite all signs from the universe which have tried to dissuade me. In 2019, my post GCSE celebrations, which revolved around seeing the band perform at Boardmasters, were compromised by the festival’s cancellation. In November 2022 (my second attempt to see them live) Welch broke her foot whilst performing, an event which is easy to understand once you have had the privilege of witnessing her stage presence. Reluctantly, the tour was postponed until 2023 to give the lead singer time to recover—and I pondered the fact that perhaps it was my fate to never see her perform live.
Walking into the packed venue, the sense of the unreal was definitely about me, heightened by the unearthly chandeliers, draped in cobwebs, which were suspended from the stage’s ceiling. Once the band finished setting up and the harp (an iconic instrument in their discography) was added to the stage, the show truly looked as if it was taking place in a dilapidated mansion. When Welch materialised to greet the screaming crowd, dressed in gorgeous white chiffon with a beaded cape to match, she instantly commanded her stage—the fascinating wraith everyone ventures to the haunted house to catch a glimpse of. The set started off with King, the first single to be released off Dance Fever, and the powerful leading line “I am no mother/ I am no bride/ I am king” reverberated around the arena. The selection of songs included most of Dance Fever—Daffodil and Dream Girl Evil gave Welch the chance to bring to the stage the essence of her latest album, which ruminates on witchy, powerful femininities, self-destruction, and what it means to be addicted to performing. Her movements whilst singing were hypnotic, sometimes using hand and arm movements to command her voice with an air of regal authority, sometimes running around the stage or slithering on the floor. Classic tracks from earlier albums were also graciously performed, such as Dog Days are Over, Kiss with a Fist and Cosmic Love. Throughout Welch’s voice was pristine, spiralling from her with the apparent ease of breathing- singing along at times felt like an offence because all I wanted to do was listen to her.
Attending the concert felt like finding a family, an ethos which Welch stressed throughout as she asked people to hold onto one another for June, dance together for Dog Days and, if you could manage it, pop someone on your shoulders for the closing number Rabbit Heart. This tension between the hyper-social and utter isolation is a key theme across the band’s projects. In High as Hope Welch confesses to “hiding from some vast unnameable fear” through performance; Dance Fever details “crying in the cereal at midnight”, locking yourself in rooms you don’t think you will ever leave, making solitary visits to the hospital. The satisfaction that comes with gathering these moments of despair and turning them into something you can share with others is palpable to anyone that listens to the band’s music, and as the lyrics “if I make it to the stage/ I’ll show you what it means to be spared” rang across the venue I became convinced that this show, this tour, is really about healing, especially in the post-COVID era.
It takes a powerful vulnerability to shoulder the burdens and joys of helping others, through art or any other means. Welch does it beautifully, confessing in her first song “I was never as good as I thought it was/ But I knew how to dress it up”. She stayed true to her words throughout; my highlight of the evening was an understated rendition of Never Let Me Go, an incredibly vocally challenging song from Ceremonials. Welch admitted to avoiding the song for over a decade- because it is so hard to sing, because she was “so young and sad and drunk” when she first wrote it. Releasing it to an adoring crowd was positively therapeutic, I imagine. What I know for sure is that it was a privilege to witness, and the band’s return to touring has been triumphant.