Florence and the Machine – review

Hackney Empire, London

Parents who worry that their teenage daughters have few pop role models other than the intemperately sexual Rihannas of the world should be pleased that Florence Welch is back. Playing her only British show of the year, she was a vivid counterpoint to almost every other woman in the top 10, where she can expect to find herself when her second album comes out next week. Already poised behind her microphone when the curtain went up, she cut a dramatic figure: tall and russet-haired, with a pale knee protruding from the split of her long, satin dress. At the sight of her, an "ooh!" went up, and someone hoisted a sign with "Florence, we love you" written across it.

This gig, streamed on the Guardian website, was a testbed for the Ceremonials album. Its predecessor, 2009's Lungs, topped the charts and won a Brit award, and her label is geared up for monumental promotion. Accordingly, tonight's setlist was so crammed with new songs that there was room for only three familiar ones, and her biggest hit, You've Got the Love, was inexplicably omitted. The immediate impression of the new material was that it will take time to sink in – some tunes, such as Heartlines, were bass-led dance grooves rather than songs, while Leave My Body offered shimmering percussion but little by way of a memorable melody.

Yet the overall effect was magical. Over 12 songs, the tribal drumming and contrasting lullaby notes of a harp left you punchdrunk. Florence herself didn't seem immune. Approaching the end of the show with Rabbit Heart, she pirouetted woozily, like a ballerina that had fallen from the top of a music box, lost in her own world.


Caroline Sullivan

The GuardianTramp

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