LIVE: Florence + the Machine @ SPAC, 9/16/12

Florence Welch
Florence Welch

Review by Greg Haymes
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk

It seemed like a fitting close to the 2012 summer season at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center…

“Dog Days Are Over,” Florence Welch declared with her final encore last Sunday evening as she wrapped up the SPAC season at the Saratoga Springs amphitheater last Sunday evening.

Over the course of a scant 90-minute headlining performance by Florence + the Machine, Welch transformed her onstage persona from faerie pixie to R&B soul belter, from silent movie star vamp to art-rock diva, from new-age earth mother to dancing queen… And yet somehow she managed to maintain her own utterly unique personality and sound.

“Theatrical” would be the first word to describe the red-haired British singer who handily won over the crowd with her dramatic hand flourishes, her constant scampering from one edge of the stage to another, her wallowing in the in spotlight, soaking up every watt.

While at times her theatrics threatened to overpower her music, the charismatic singer-songwriter ultimately displayed serious lung-power and enough well-crafted arena-ready, art-rock anthems to outweigh her often melodramatic stage moves.

She knows how to make a visual performance statement, and it often seemed as though she was focused as much on the stage lighting as she was on her enthusiastic and adoring fans. Either way, it was to good effect, and the crowd roared its approval which each carefully choreographed vogue-moment in front of the multi-purpose art deco stage set.

Her song selection was perhaps a bit askew, at least for my tastes, performing twice as many songs from “Ceremonials” (her weaker sophomore album) than from her breakthrough ’09 debut “Lungs,” but the devoted in attendance ate it all up with unbridled enthusiasm, from the opening volley of “Only If For a Night” straight through to the final encore of “Dogs Days Are Over.”

She romped through the crowd during “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up),” which she prefaced by encouraging fans to hoist their beloved on their shoulders to the considerably chagrin of the Live Nation security team. She mingled the seemingly disparate elements of hippiedom (“Turn to you the person next to you and kiss them or hug them,” she requested) and disco fever (a thwomping beat accompanied by four – count ’em, 4 – spinning mirrored balls) for the galloping, Kate Bush-ish “Spectrum.” And she ventured a bit too unsuccessfully into the R&B/soul vocal realm on the wailing “Lover to Lover” and the ballad “Leave My Body.”

But she rallied with the toned-down, semi-acoustic, sing-along ballad “Heartlines,” and she had the crowd singing along and literally bouncing up and down on the percussion-driven “Shake It Out.”

Of course, she didn’t do it all by herself, and it’s a shame that she neglected to introduce her fine five-piece backing band and trio of vocalists – including classical harp player Tom Monger and keyboardist Isabella Summers.

Led by the soaring, elastic voice of vocalist Orlando Weeks and the churning dual guitars of brothers Hugo and Felix White, six-piece British band the Maccabees opened the show with a thoroughly captivating 40-minute set, running the gamut of rock dynamics from a droning ambient swirl to a full-blown, power-chord explosion with such captivating selections as “Heave,” “Go,” the unbridled “”Love You Better” and the bold, closing “Pelican.”

With their smart and savvy hybrid of edgy, experimental rock and sweeping, multi-textured cinematic pop, the band proved exactly why they were worthy of a spot on the shortlist of nominees for the prestigious British Mercury Prize, which they garnered earlier in the week.

Emily Donahue’s review and Erica Miller’s photographs at The Saratogian
Excerpt from Brian McElhiney’s review at The Daily Gazette: “’Drumming Song’ and ‘Cosmic Love’ kept things high energy to start, as Welch quickly hit her vocal stride. Since she so often began songs on her own — and since her speaking voice is quite similar to her singing voice — it was often hard to tell if Welch was engaging in stage banter or barreling into the next song. She did get the crowd up — literally — before ‘Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up),’ asking audience members to turn to the person next to them and hoist them up on their shoulders. Many obliged, pushing the song to an energetic finish. Highlights included the throbbing ‘Spectrum,’ complete with seizure-inducing light shows for the song’s dramatic finish, and an interesting acoustic take on ‘Heartlines,’ which really allowed Welch’s vocals to shine.”

Only If for a Night
Drumming Song
Cosmic Love
Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)
Lover to Lover
Leave My Body
Breath of Life
Shake It Out
No Light, No Light
What the Water Gave Me
Dog Days Are Over

Wall of Arms
Went Away
No Kinds Words
Feel to Follow
Love You Better

The Maccabees
The Maccabees

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