Florence + The Machine embrace minimalism at magical UK tour opener

First Direct Arena, Leeds, November 15 2018

Florence + The Machine‘s return to the stage this summer was a somewhat low-key affair. A half-hour away from tonight’s setting of Leeds Arena, the Londoners entered their ‘High As Hope‘ era with an intimate, sweltering show at Halifax’s Victoria Theatre. Stripped of their trademark bombast on new songs, the rejigged yet well-oiled machine offered a glimpse of what was to come. A calmer, restrained, and more confident Florence Welch.

The frontwoman addresses this shift during the band’s sold-out tour-opener this evening. “When it was the ‘Lungs‘ era, [the show] was almost exactly the same – except way more drunk and shouty,” Welch tells us. She’s not wrong. The chaotic early days saw the singer scale the tent rigging at Reading Festival, get pushed away from electrical gear after climbing onto the SXSW stage while soaking wet, and sing about spiralling into a hurricane-like state of intoxication after spotting an ex with someone new. Slightly less than chilled, right?

Opting to open with the subdued ‘June’ tonight, it’s clear from the off that Welch has changed tack. The stage alone is a much more modest set-up. Each of the nine band members is positioned atop a natural, slatted wood structure, while drapes of cream-coloured cotton hang above – as if a representation of Welch’s cleansed mind. She’s now comfortable embracing quiet moments and space, no longer feeling the need to hide behind gothic, pre-raphaelite imagery, overblown production, and alcohol.

Later, ahead of ‘South London Forever’, Welch speaks of her “messy teenage to pretty late-20s experiences” in Camberwell. Instead of dwelling on acts of self-destruction and lingering regret that plagues some of her earlier work, she speaks positively about her youth. “When we say teenage, we mean like really early teens,” she clarifies with a laugh.

More at ease in her personal life, Florence takes the opportunity to touch on current issues. Spreading a message of togetherness as Britain plunges deeper into Brexit bedlam, the singer airs her concerns over the “worrying and complicated times” we’re living in. “A revolution in consciousness starts with individuals,” she says. “Because hope is an action and I believe in you.” During ode to Patti Smith, ‘Patricia’, Welch reveals that the middle section of the song is about toxic masculinity. “I have to say, though, there’s not much toxic masculinity here,” she tells us. “If you’re with us at a Florence + The Machine show, you probably believe in women.”

Despite leaning on new, stripped-back material tonight, Florence has her moments – a relief to those who feared she could have mellowed a little too much. No chance. Undeterred by Coachella’s foot-breaking incident, Welch propels herself from the stage steps (and clears them) numerous times during the grandiose ‘Queen of Peace’ – while the crowd are at her mercy for festival-banger ‘Dog Days Are Over’.

Exorcising every bad decision and regret – from that ill-advised tequila shot to heartbreak pain – Welch is finally untamed and unleashed at the end of the set. The pounding, force of nature ‘Delilah’ sees her completely give in to the trance-like state that’s been tempting her over to the dark side all evening. She sprints free from the stage, appearing at the back of the arena crowd – somehow making it back before the end of the track. Welch then whips her head around to the opening distorted guitar of ‘What Kind of Man’, grabbing the face of a male fan at the front.

Arriving onstage for the encore, the band perform the skeletal tale of ghosting, ‘Big God’, before one final cathartic release in the form of ‘Shake It Out’.

“I just want to say thank you so much to everyone who’s kept these songs so safe for 10 years,” Welch tells the crowd. The Machine might’ve gone through various guises over the last decade, but with Florence shedding her insecurities and darkness, none are quite so powerful as 2018’s.

Florence + The Machine played:

June
Hunger
Between Two Lungs
Only If for a Night
Queen of Peace
South London Forever
Patricia
Dog Days Are Over
100 Years
Ship to Wreck
The End of Love
Cosmic Love
Delilah
What Kind of Man

Encore:
Big God
Shake It Out