Florence and the Machine | Pop review

Academy, Birmingham

Florence and the Machine's musical ascent has been remarkably precipitous. Virtually unknown a year ago, they have since secured the Critics' Choice Brit award, narrowly missed out on the Mercury music prize and seen their debut album, Lungs, only kept off the No 1 slot by the late Michael Jackson.

Their success is all the more noteworthy as it is built not on a stream of lowest-common-denominator, Lady GaGa-style thumping dance anthems, but on a strain of leftfield, contrary art-pop powered by irregular, skew-whiff rhythms. Not that this makes them "difficult": this fervently celebratory show demonstrated that Florence Welch is as capable of triggering and orchestrating a rabid audience reaction as any scantily clad disco diva.

She certainly cuts an imposing figure. Alabaster-skinned and statuesque in micro-shorts and a diaphonous black cape, Welch has the crowd eating out of her hand from the opening Kiss With a Fist, a paean to dysfunctional relationships that suggests Tori Amos fronting the Banshees. She even injected visceral yearning into Are You Hurting the One You Love?, a song that Bat for Lashes might possibly reject as too indulgent and outre.

Welch is a composed performer, with only the occasional gauche giggle during song introductions reminding you that she is still just 23. She also possesses a formidable set of pipes, intoning the haunting I'm Not Calling You a Liar over acoustic harp backing with Sinéad O'Connor-like forensic precision, and hinting during a rousing Hurricane Drunk that the Kate Bush comparisons lavished upon her may yet be valid.

A natural drama queen, Welch initially appeared happy to play the ice maiden in Birmingham, but all mystique was abandoned amid the tribal drumming of Dog Days as she urged the audience to jump as high as they can – in the manner of Slipknot. Some songs that on Lungs can seem too fussy and precious gain from this influx of elbow grease: the gorgeous, open-hearted Howl even suggests Björk duetting with Fleetwood Mac.

Welch, however, risked souring the evening with hippy-dippy positivity, earnestly detecting "a lot of love in this room". But matters were salvaged with a magnificent, rip-roaring encore cover of Candi Staton's 1991 acid house anthem, You Got the Love. Far from the spectral, delicate auteur of media reports, Florence Welch looks poised to become quite the showbiz rock'n'roll trouper.

At ABC, Glasgow, tonight. Box office: 0844 477 2000. Then touring.


Ian Gittins

The GuardianTramp

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