At the end of a blistering, 36-degree day at Budapest’s Sziget festival, Florence + The Machine floated in like a summer breeze to perform a breathtaking headliner to close the sixth and penultimate day.
It’s just over 10 years since the band released debut album ‘Lungs’, and it’s fair to say that, in that time, Florence Welch has comfortably assumed the role of the superstar frontwoman. She’s a force of nature from the very beginning, opening the show with the first two tracks from her latest album ‘High As Hope’ – ‘June’ and ‘The Hunger’, which is as close to a great Stevie Nicks song as she’s ever written. Next comes the frantic ‘Ship To Wreck’, which sees Florence running, bouncing, seemingly almost floating in her long white gown.
The set-up at the Dan Panaitescu Main Stage, named for the festival’s late booker, is the perfect playground for Florence, with a long catwalk stretching out into the crowd allowing Welch to whizz back and forth throughout the show, frequently choosing to perform at the far reaches of the platform among adoring fans. Her ability to maintain her famously powerful vocal while expending so much energy makes her almost an athlete; it brings to mind that statistic about your average football referee running eight miles during a game; you wonder what the totaliser on Florence’s FitBit would be at the end of a performance of the same length.
The significance of the 10-year ‘Lungs’ anniversary isn’t lost on Welch herself, who pauses to thank those fans who’ve been with her from the start. “I’m so grateful to all of you for looking after us for 10 years now,” she told the 75,000-strong crowd. “I’m so amazed that this even happened. It was a dream. And I was a mess. I’m really amazed I didn’t fuck it up. But you guys saw me through so much – the highs and the lows and the really fucking highs – and I just want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
And it’s a ‘Lungs’-era tune that provides probably the most explosive moment of the show. During a breakdown in ‘Dog Days Are Over’, she appeals to fans and photographers to put their phones and cameras away, having forewarned that “We’re going to do something very strange.”
She tells the crowd: “I want you to tap them on the shoulder and say excuse me, please put that phone away. We’re from jolly old England, where Her Majesty the Queen would say: put your fucking phones away!”
The purpose of all this is to have the crowd “jump as high as long as possible, and we will not record this moment because it’s just ours.” The crowd oblige, because to enjoy a Florence + The Machine show does involve some level of subduing your cynicism and going along with the hippy-dippy vibes, even if that involves “turning around and telling the person next to you that you love them – because trust me, you do”.
And love was a big theme of the evening. Sziget’s theme this year – Love Revolution – comes with a programme of LGBTQ+ events and a message of diversity, unity and human rights. Mindful of this, Florence dedicates the towering ‘You Got The Love’ to “the LGBTQ community of Hungary. We love you, we’re family”.
Elsewhere, ‘Patricia’ is dedicated to the woman who inspired it – punk icon Patti Smith. “Its about a woman who’s very close to my heart, and she told me recently that every time I sing this song she is with me in spirit,” Florence tells the crowd. “Patti Smith we welcome you!”
Earlier in the day, Catfish & The Bottlemen played a searing set on the same stage, ending in a 15-minute jam on the track ‘Tyrants’. Over on the Mastercard / A38 stage, Superorganism brought their technicolour pop oddness to the stage, and had a packed tent bouncing along to ‘Something For Your M.I.N.D.’ and ‘Everybody Wants To Be Famous’.
Post headliners, entertainment included a quite brilliant David Bowie tribute, Bowie & Friends, which saw a crack band performing a setlist to please even the most leftfield Bowie fan, featuring ‘Lazarus’, ‘Hallo Spaceboy’, ‘Golden Years’ and even the Iggy Pop version of ‘China Girl’.
Sziget closes its doors after seven full days of festival-ing tonight, with a performance by Foo Fighters.
Florence + The Machine played:
‘Ship to Wreck’
‘Queen of Peace’
‘Dog Days Are Over’
‘You Got The Love’
‘What Kind of Man’
‘Shake It Out’