Florence + the Machine are now a safe pair of hands when it comes to headlining festivals. You know it will be a killer show, with a tremendously slick band. You know you’ll hear tons of the hits, and that it’ll be perfect for a sing-a-long with your pals. And you know that Florence Welch’s distinctive, soaring vocals will sound as gorgeous as ever.
And this is what Florence + the Machine delivered at Romania’s Electric Castle festival during their headline slot. Opening with ‘June’, Welch and her band blitz through a string of their gorgeous baroque pop hits. The emotive ‘Hunger’ sees Welch managing to hit every note whilst launching herself around the stage with the energy of the Duracell bunny, and a brooding rendition of ‘Queen of Peace’ sees Welch dashing down the walkway into the audience like she was trying to win the 100 metre sprint.
But it’s midway through when something happens that noticeably changes the energy of the audience.
“Now we’re going to do something…you’re not going to like it and it’s going to make you feel scared,” Welch tells the crowd halfway through ‘Dog Days’, “but I want you to trust me, I want you to put away your phones.”
On her command, most of the crowd stop filming the show and put away their mobiles, but of course there are a few who disobey. “If somebody has their phone out you can politely tap them on the shoulder and say “please will you put your phone away, we’re trying to have a collective experience,” Welch goes on. More devices disappear from sight.
“Or if you want to use the correct Queen’s English…you can say: “put your fucking phone away!”” she finishes, to roars of appreciation. At this point you’d be hard pressed to find a single phone amongst the tens of thousands of revellers swelling around the festival’s main stage. As Welch (now satisfied that the crowd have temporarily disposed of their phones) launches into the final, jubilant chorus the audience jump and whoop and bellow the words back to her, with a careless abandon that wasn’t there before.
It’s a neat trick, and one Florence has repeated at several other festivals this summer, but that doesn’t make it any less effective. From then on out the audience seem more invested in the show, screaming back the words to every song, and hushing each other in quiet moments so they can hear Welch preach to them. “I want every single person at this festival to turn to each other and embrace them and tell each other they love them,” she orders the audience at one point. They of course are quick to obey.
For Welch’s 80-minutes onstage the hoards of punters in front of her transform into a real community, something she acknowledges on stage. Before a euphoric version of ‘Cosmic Love’ she thanks the audience for sticking with her through “the highs, the really fucking highs, and the lows,” before adding, “One of the most beautiful things to come out of this is the community that has come out of these shows…and I’m so humbled to have played a part in that.”
Finishing with a thundering version of ‘What Kind of Man’, which sees Welch clamber into the crowd, she briefly disappears off stage before returning for an impressive encore. First up is the towering ‘No Choir’, which begins with an imposing a capella moment. Next is the cinematic ‘Big God’, which theatrically swells into the menacing climax.
“We have one last request, will you be our choir for this evening?” Welch asks before the last song. Her harpist gives the audience the notes and she attempts to conduct the crowd. Satisfied with their vocal prowess, Florence + the Machine launch into ‘Shake It Out’, with Welch continuing to skip around the stage conducting the choir of thousands in the audience.
As the audience sing the final notes, Welch takes a bow and surveys the community she’s brought together. Her fans may have been there for some of her lows, but this evening at Electric Castle they were witness to one of the “really fucking highs”.
Florence + the Machine played:
Ship to Wreck
Queen of Peace
You Got the Love
What Kind of Man
Shake It Out