Florence and the Machine, Hackney Empire, London

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The Independent Culture

Hackney may be a world away from her last public engagement on the Paris catwalks, but Florence Welch refuses to stint onglamour at the launch of her second album. When the red curtains finally pull back,they reveal an elegant, art nouveau backdrop, white set and the star herself in full-length, bronze satin gown.

Such a decadent look sticks two fingers up at those who disparage the leader of Florence and the Machine for being posh and popular, though this bravado fails to disguise a nervy start – Welch stands motionless bar the odd waving gesture, as if transfixed by the visions of ghosts and drowning in new material. If releasing CeremonialsonHalloween has anypoint, it is to restore some sense of the otherworldly to her work. The artist’s 2009 debut album, Lungs,came with shadows, violence and even coffins, though Welch’s darker interests were dissipated by constant exposure.

She became a fashion icon, the album won a Brit Award and that cover of The Source’s house anthem, re-titled “You’ve Got the Love”, became ubiquitous, reprised recently for Ed Miliband’s conference speech. For Ceremonials,Welch has cannily turned down offers of Los Angeles recording sessions to focus on successful collaborations with producer Paul Epworth, who worked on some of Lung’s more theatrical moments. From opening number, “Only If for a Night”, this seems the right course.

Two drummers pound portentous rhythms, while three backing singers add a choral touch to Welch’s strident vocal. She settles a couple of numbers inwhensheskittishly removes her shoes, grinning with relief and skipping girlishly across the stage. Gradually, a sense of positivity emerges from a set weightedtowards Ceremonials,most successfully on “Shake It Out”. With Welch at her most passionate, the number glows with vindication and promises to take festivals by storm next summer.

“Heartlines”, though, is reminiscent of M People’s “Search for the Hero”, a vapid feel-good anthem for a sporting occasion. On “Lover to Lover”, Welch’s attempt at a soulful vocal sounds more like a panicked Grace Slick, when she could have restrained herself for tonight’s acoustic setting, a repeat of her blast through “Cosmic Love”, one of a handful of older tunes. She closes the set triumphantly with a joyous “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)” and the grand, all-encompassing “Spectrum”. A fine replacement for “You’ve Got the Love”, hardly missed in the scheme of things.