Live: Florence and the Machine Feed on the Spotlight at Bowery Ballroom

Florence and the Machine
Bowery Ballroom
Tuesday, October 27

Toward the end of her first official New York City show, London's Florence Welch worked a little bit of Fever Ray's "If I Had a Heart" into the beginning of her tune "Blinding". While I have no doubt Welch's love of the enigmatic Swede Karin Dreijer Andersson is pure and true, the two singers approach spectacle from opposite angles. Andersson cloaks herself in effects and big cloaks; Welch needs to be seen and heard as clearly as possible at all times. Last night she wore what could pass for a tony ghost costume-- all waves of flowing white-- while her band were backgrounded in nothing but black. Her voice, as bellowing and soul-filled and elastic as it may be, was sometimes uncomfortably high in the mix. Welch feeds on the spotlight without apology, and this old-school approach is working for her thus far--her debut album Lungs, released in the UK last July, would have hit number one on the British charts if it weren't for sudden interest in another center-of-attention-type, Michael Jackson. And now, like any loyal subject with a speck of ambition, she's setting her gaze on America.

And America loves a ham. So what if her band couldn't hope to live up to the galloping and whooshing production flourishes on album highlights like "Blinding" and "Cosmic Love"? Or if the immense harp was nearly inaudible most of the time? (Serves it right for stealing so much of the damn stage!) Or if the early White Stripes tribute "Kiss With a Fist"-- with its garage-rock brevity--completely undermined Florence's majestic chic? Pish-posh. The kinda gay, kinda English crowd cheered loudly many times at the concert simply because Florence is constantly "going for it"-- a note, an insane Annie Lennox-style hand gesture, a mad-hatted lyric-- with zero restraint.

A revamped version of the wounded ballad "I'm Not Calling You a Liar" took tops. Incidentally, it was the only track which featured Welch singing nearly unaccompanied for most of its duration (the quiet harpist was picking away, too, I suppose). On record, an army of producers do their best to equal Welch's absolutely blaring voice when it comes to grandiosity and sheer volume, and sometimes it works. But it's a losing battle live. Only 23 and dizzy with home-court success, Welch is going to require everything-- full orchestra, gong, timpani, you name it--to really come across onstage. Or maybe, as "Liar" suggested, nothing. Sans band, she's not weighed down by mere humanity, and her couture ghost outfit starts to look more like an angel costume. "I'm not calling you a liar, just don't lie to me," she advises. Done and done.

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