It’s hard to dance with a devil on your back, as Florence Welch exclaims in her band Florence and The Machine’s anthemic hit song “Shake It Out.” Luckily she brushed off that pesky demon long before she took the stage at Ak-Chin Pavilion on a balmy Tuesday evening. The British singer-songwriter pirouetted back and forth along the platform with a contagious smile covering her pale face. The audience picked up on her abundant joy immediately, playing the role of choir during the refrain of that hit single from her second album Ceremonials.
The ginger-haired beauty, clad in a white outfit that resembled something Catherine Deneuve wore in the sexy 1983 vampire film The Hunger, was light on her bare feet throughout her energetic set. Her lack of shoes was surprising, considering she broke her foot at Coachella in April. It didn’t impede her from running off stage to serenade those out on the lawn during her performance of “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up).” Rarely does moody, orchestrated art-rock cause such gleeful choreography from a performer, but Welch, backed by a small army of multi-talented musicians, sang her catalog with vigor and passion to spare. Her energy was endless and her deep, soulful singing voice was operatic and strong. The 29-year-old used her hands to express the emotion in songs like “Ship To Wreck” and “Third Eye” much like a stage actress does to get her character’s point across.
When she spoke to the audience, her voice was high-pitched and hushed. She transformed from a stirring, larger-than-life figure into someone who seems tame and quiet in real life. Welch has been through a lot since she damaged her vocal chords in 2012, and her three hit albums and hypnotic stage performances serve as her outlet. She went through “a bit of a nervous breakdown” that caused her to go on a brief hiatus. She alluded to some of these personal struggles when explaining the origin of the title track from her latest release How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful.
She went into a quiet version of the song “Cosmic Love” off her debut album Lungs. She talked about how she wrote the song during the “world’s worst hangover” as if she were giving a performance in the world’s biggest coffeehouse instead of a large amphitheater. A personal number like this, which consisted of her, a harp, and an acoustic guitar, is meant to give the backing performers a break. It also served as a reminder that before Florence + The Machine exploded because of their magnificent anthemic songs, they were capable of small, moving, intimate songs that tugged on listeners’ heartstrings.
A giant video sun came out from behind the stage curtain as Welch bowed to it in worship during the song “Mother” and then strutted like a peacock during the sultry “Spectrum.” The digital glowing orb turned into a full moon as the harp strummed the introduction to the band’s biggest hit “Dog Days Are Over.” Welch, who didn’t have sufficient time to acclimate to the desert climate, requested that the audience follow her lead and take off a piece of clothing because, as she explained,”we are free!” She only took off her vest, but some audience members were a little overzealous and used the fake full moon on stage as excuse enough to get crazy on a school night.
The devil returned for the show’s finale. As Welch belted out “What Kind Of Man,” she went back into the crowd and laid her hands on them as if she were some televangelist healing them with her touch, only to return to the stage sprawled on the floor, spent from using her healing powers. The lights suddenly turned red. The beats of “Drumming Song” caused things to flicker wildly. Welch convulsed as if she were possessed by an evil spirit. The audience will never know if a demon took back ownership of Welch’s soul. All they know is the dancing eventually stopped and she left the audience enraptured.
Last Night: Florence + The Machine and The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger at Ak-Chin Pavillion
The Crowd: Goths wearing Docs and their sandal-wearing parents Instagramming their giant alcoholic beverages
Random Notebook Dump: “The tan senior citizen behind me took off his shirt and the college-age girl in front of me did the same. She jumped around wildly, not caring that her mammary glands could be freed from their perch at anytime. The fake full moon made people crazy. It made me feel a little bit creepy.”
Overheard in the Crowd: “He sounds like John Lennon,” said a dude who didn’t know that opener The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger is led by Lennon’s son Sean (who never brought up he was the son of John and Yoko).
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Personal Bias: You often hear people wax poetic about how music finds you at the right time. I discovered Florence + The Machine’s Lungs at a rough time in my life. It helped get me through that patch, and I was overwhelmed to see her perform songs from that album with tremendous enthusiasm.