Florence Welch fell in love with London again on her latest album, last year’s ‘High As Hope’. Crafting the beginnings of the record in her house in Peckham, and cycling every day to the South London creative hotspot Bussey Building, it’s a record explicitly informed by her hometown. As the tour for the album draws to a close, this renewed connection to the city makes tonight’s show at Hyde Park, the band’s “last London show for a little bit”, extra special.
“I’m so overwhelmed by this,” Florence says towards the end of the set, in which she uses the opportunity to take stock of the ten years since she and her band released debut album ‘Lungs’. “To come from playing the Old Blue Last and Camden every week…. playing five shows a week [to] anyone that would take us. The thing that has been so beautiful is the community that has built up around these shows.”
This community is on full show today. Between a line-up – a 70% female one, as Florence gleefully points out before Patti Smith tribute ‘Patricia’ (“welcome to the matriarchy, it’s fun!”) – full of friends and collaborators and the hosting of a first IRL meeting of her book club Between Two Books, there’s a real sense of the singer using her platform to push creativity in all forms.
Over the last ten years, Florence has become an increasingly safe pair of hands as a festival headliner, solidifying this when she stepped in to headline Glastonbury after Dave Grohl’s broken leg in 2015, going on to headline BST Hyde Park for the first time the following year. A safe booking can often equate to a boring one, but Florence takes the opportunity tonight and uses it to hammer home her beliefs and do something a little different. Her stunning voice and infectious energy have never been in doubt – a rare outing for oldie ‘Kiss With A Fist’ is a deliciously unhinged affair, while ‘Big God’ sounds simply gargantuan – but it’s the cast-iron statements she makes between these songs that sees her making strides forward.
In the middle of a predictably raucous ‘Dog Days Are Over’, she instructs the crowd to put their phones in their pockets and live in the moment. “Or if we want to say it in the proper way, like her majesty the queen would,” she smirks, “PUT YOUR FUCKING PHONES AWAY!”
Whether it’s a philosophy you subscribe to or not, we need our festival headliners to be making statements like these, not just safely coasting from show to show. It’s also a pretty stunning site when the ‘Lungs’ hit kicks back in and 65,000 souls go absolutely barmy. Ten years into her career, tonight sees Florence + The Machine taking the opposite trajectory to most – instead of consolidating and hunkering down, she’s taking bold, brave new steps to ensure that she’s not only a consistent festival headliner in the future, but also an interesting, progressive one.