Florence & The Machine, Alexandra Palace, London
Friday 09 March 2012
Someone clever once remarked that all actors sit on a scale
between Gary Oldman and Jack Nicholson. At one
extreme is Oldman, who so absorbs his characters that you can barely
recognise him. At the other, the character is subsumed by the id of
Florence Welch is a singing Nicholson. As soon as she expands her lungs, her voice conquers all. It's a sheen that a) identifies everything she does as <hers/> and b) smothers a lot of the nuance. Especially live.
But people love Jack. And an increasingly large number love Florence too. Hence three nights inat Ally Pally in the middle of a tour of Britain' enormo rooms.
A voice so big deserves a grand home and the Victorian main hall here - big enough for the world's elite dart artistes - is a fitting home. She makes it homely, too, with a brilliant stage design - a giant art deco mirror doubles as a giant screen. It's from behind the mirror that Welch enters the stage to "Only If For A Night" and a howl of post-adolescent screaming.
This being an "event" gig, F+tM's biggest in their home town yet, there's the requisite backing choir and string section, too, but heir shadowing of Florence's idiosyncratic vocal manouvres helps create an unlikely air of intimacy in a space in which it's so easy for audiences to feel more like they're near a gig than actually at one. Welch looks the part too, confirming her status as Britain's premier cape wearer (sorry Christian Bale) with a beautiful design by Alex Noble, creator of some of Lady Gaga's most dramatic creations. All together, mixed with curious Macbethian noises between songs, it creates a sense of drama for songs that, for Welch's vocal powers, can sometimes seem oddly undramatic.
But, if album tracks like "Heartlines" and "Leave My Body" from Ceremonials underwhelm, some - powerful singles like "No Light, No Light" and the Eurythmics-ish "Shake It Out" - manage to get the 10,000 attendees wafting their dart arms like Phil Taylor's just 180-ed. Welch's old trick off getting the entire crowd to pogo during "Dog Days Are Over" works a treat, too, in this 99 per cent standing crowd. That's followed later by a deceptive, elongated orchestral intro to Welch's ultra-popular, if overblown, take on "You Got The Love", which, fittingly, sees more arms put in the air.
It all fits together nicely. As performances on this scale always should but often don't. If it's let down, it's by the fact that, despite her stave-straddling vocal range, it's sometimes hard to detect too much emotional range in Welch's voice as it rockets towards the ceiling. Sometimes you want Commissioner Gordon, not the Joker.
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