Everything Florence Welch does is marinated in melodrama. When she could finally tour her 2022 quasi-lockdown album ‘Dance Fever’ — inspired by both Welch’s desire to return to the live arena and the medieval dancing plague “choreomania” — she was quite ironically forced to postpone her UK and Ireland dates after “dancing on a broken foot” during a November gig in London, arguably the most gloriously on-brand performance injury that Welch could ever suffer.
Even before she steps on stage in Manchester tonight (“Shoes are new to me, but I can’t be tripping over my laces right now!” she later jokes), this rescheduled tour date is high on drama. Chandeliers descend from the ceiling, while the set’s gothic grandeur makes it look like the Florence + The Machine leader has booked into the Corpse Bride’s Airbnb. Beginning by punching her fist in time to the staccato opening of ‘Heaven Is Here’, Welch’s ensuing two-hour set is a visceral bacchanal of precise arena-primed choreography.
Tasmanian Devilling around the stage in her billowing white ruched dress, the artist appears as seemingly afflicted by the hysteria her recent fifth album (and this tour) cribbed its name from. When Welch says that she wants to practice “a resurrection of dance”, she isn’t kidding: marshalling undulating limbs during euphoric anxiety anthem ‘Free’’s “picks me up” and “puts me down” chorus, as well as sprinting the entirety of the arena during the gospel-tinged widescreen chamber-pop of ‘Choreomania’, she achieves such unity without compromising an ounce of her vocal prowess.
Tonight, pagan and biblical imagery interweave. Midway through a thundering version of early calling card ‘Dog Days Are Over’, Welch casts herself as a messianic figure to any newcomers in the 21,000-strong crowd: “If you’re wondering, ‘What the fuck is this? Is it a cult?’ All I have to say is it really is better if you get into it.” During the similarly Midsommar: The Musical vibes of ‘Dream Girl Evil’, Welch sings into the face of a floral headdress-adorned fan in the front row as if she’s just been chosen to be the May Queen.
Welch has previously described ‘Dance Fever’ as a collection of fairy tales in which she scatters a trail of personal lyrical breadcrumbs to make sense of her life. A moving ‘Morning Elvis’ explores her past battles with drink and drugs (she’s been sober for nearly nine years), and it’s one part of a brace of songs where she exorcises her personal demons like spirits escaping the traps in Ghostbusters. Nowhere is it more powerful than 2018 cut ‘Hunger’ and its stark lyrical sucker-punch “At 17, I started to starve myself.” Tonight, that line becomes even more bracing when it’s sung cathartically back by women who know what it’s like to treat their own bodies as battle zones. It’s followed by the once-ubiquitous The Source cover ‘You’ve Got The Love’, where Welch removes the vocal safety limits from her banshee-wail and effortlessly stokes a party atmosphere.
Like all the best cult leaders, Welch demands “a sacrifice” at the end of the gig. Rather than ushering a wicker man on-stage, though, she only requires her audience members to vault on each others’ shoulders. As the propulsive ‘Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)’ strikes up and the crowd duly clamber aboard each other like joyous human Jenga towers, you can only conclude that Welch is no false prophet.
Florence + The Machine played:
‘Heaven Is Here’
‘Ship to Wreck’
‘Dog Days Are Over’
‘Girls Against God’
‘Dream Girl Evil’
‘What Kind Of Man’
‘You Got The Love’
‘Kiss With A Fist’
‘Never Let Me Go’
‘Shake It Out’
‘Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)’