Held in Ferropolis – Germany’s City Of Iron, near Berlin – in a disused mine, where cranes loom everywhere you look, Melt Festival cuts a surreal image. But then even if it was operational, you get the feeling that Florence Welch’s sandblaster vocals could easily drown out the sound of heavy-duty industrial items. Florence, literally surrounded by machines, headlined the opening Friday night (13 July) of the weekender, one of the first shows she’s played since the release of ‘High As Hope’, her fourth album, last month, and devotional fans are out in force. One wields a banner that reads: “Florence you are my North Star. Please tattoo me” – an offer which regrettably Welch doesn’t incorporate into her stagecraft.
Strolling onto the main stage at 11.30 in a floaty peach-coloured dress looking like a bridesmaid that’s fled a wedding reception, she opens with ‘Between Two Lungs’ from debut album, ‘Lungs’, before pirouetting her way through a set of aural melodrama. Midway through the gig, she thanks the crowd for turning her personal tragedies into joy, and nowhere does that feel more startling that when – during ‘Hunger’, the shiver-inducing lead single of ‘High As Hope’ – she conducts the audience to sing along with its bracingly frank opening lines: “At 17, I started to starve myself/I thought that love was a kind of emptiness,” before looking genuinely moved by the communal catharsis.
Backed by a band featuring violins and harps, and tribal drums, she plays four tracks off the latest album, and dedicates the song ‘Patricia’ to her muse Patti Smith. “It was written for a woman who was very close to my heart,” she says. “Apart from the middle bit which is about toxic masculinity but it’s quite long to explain. So the song – apart from the central angry bit – is for her because I think, amongst everything, she was a North Star that I could look towards to teach me in every part of my life to live and love. And she said to me recently through the meanderings of the internet that the next time I sung it, that she would be with me. And so Patti, I know that you are with me and I know that you are with us this evening.” The gospel tinged ‘Big God’ – which sadly doesn’t see her joined by co-writer Jamie XX despite his band playing on the Sunday – sees her almost possessed by another force, like a full-blown musical exorcism of her demons.
Wildly theatrical – you get the feeling that she couldn’t write a shopping list without making the paper into origami shapes – she’s a well-honed festival powerhouse, ricocheting around the stage like a shaken Coke can, and naturally the bangers incite the most delirium, with full safety-limits-removed Florence vocally turbine-ing through her euphoric cover of Candi Staton’s ‘’You’ve Got The Love’, rainbow LGBTQ flag billowing behind her (one of a number of moments that highlights inclusion in a weekend where women and gay people occupy prime slots) and the primal stomp of ‘Dog Days Are Over’, ‘What Kind Of Man’ and a barnstorming closer ‘Shake It Out’.
Florence And The Machine played:
Between Two Lungs
Queen Of Peace
Only If For A Night
Dog Days Are Over
Ship To Wreck
You’ve Got The Love
What Kind Of Man
Shake It Out.