Show Review: Florence + the Machine @ Austin City Limits (5/20/16)

florence-2On Friday night, the Moody Theater hosted one of the strongest and well-renowned acts in the music world on the ACLTV stage. Florence + the Machine brought their trademark flare for the dramatic and pumped out an epic and high-energy 12 song performance in the midst of their How Beautiful World Tour. The night prior the group hit an evening at the Circuit of the Americas Amphitheater to a much larger audience, but the element of subtlety and artistic restraint are nowhere to be found within the front woman’s agenda. When she gets on stage, it is laid out for all to see and bare witness like an emotional tsunami; unpredictable and unrelenting.

Backed by a solid 10-piece ensemble including, but not limited to 4 backing vocalists, 2 keyboardists, a small female Horn section, and (obviously) a harpist, the flowing and livelyFlorence Welch directed the proceedings like a true Master of Ceremonies. Typical donors level attendees briefly glued to their comfortable seats were guilted into standing mostly throughout the hour plus set. The majority, however from the floor to the rafters, were ready and willing to provide the energy Welch and Co. willingly reciprocatedin return from the stage.

Opening the festivities was the Frida inspired What the Water Gave Me from 2011’s Cermonials. As the crowd filtered into the theater, this soulful ballad served as a bit of an appetizer to get everyone settled and into the mood. Welch was truly just warming up and requestedthe audience give her strength before leading into the powerful and devastating masterpiece Ship to Wreck. Here Welch could finally release the full timbre in her distinctive voice and from there it was a million miles an hour straight to the heart with no remorse.

Rabbit Heart from 2007s debut, Lungs, provided a more upbeat and positive message as she beckoned the crowd to stand, jump, dance, and get up on each other’s shoulders. At one point, Welch jumped into the audience and danced unabashed, twisting and turning with a group of small children as her flowing white gown rotated smoothly. Continuing in the positive vein, Shake it Out lifted the collective spirit in unparalleled fashion as the crowd enthusiastically echoed as a pseudo-choir. The wide ranging set list stretched across all three studio releases, while performing a majority of songs from her most recent and critically acclaimed 2015 release, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful including the title track. This special song, she described, slowed her pace down long enough to describe a kind of unfiltered and forthright love that surely most attendees were already feeling towards the vocalist by this point in the set.

Interestingly, just before the show was set to begin, the planned live stream was cancelled for circumstances outside (ACL’s) control. My theory for this cancellation was the fact that the cameramen in the pit were challenged to desperately chase Welch back and forth across the stage non-stop. She truly was outside anyone’s control at this point. One can only imaging what the view from the camera would have looked like panning back and forth like a dog chasing its tail. I think the producers saw this coming and tried to save their well established image of a polished production. Never have I seen a performer so animated on the ACL stage and it seemed the crew didn’t quite have the game plan fully developed to combat the joyous exuberance they were matched up against. Again, just my theory, but it sure was fun to watch the mayhem unfold.

After the fast paced 10-song main set concluded, the ensemble reemerged to a standing ovation for a short encore including 2 tracks from Lungs. During the Candi Staton cover, You Got the Love, we began to see the bubbles of water simmering on the surface, before breaking into a full boil in the finale and most well known trackDog Days Are Over, which the audience seemingly and collectively felt was the only fitting way to end the set.

From start to finish the performance was certainly up there in terms of quality to ever grace the Moody stage. I’ve had the privilege to see a few tapings throughout the seasons and Welch and Co. somehow managed to raise the bar even higher than already conceivable. Its equally astounding to see a performance so cathartic and authentic that the only true way to respond is to fall deeply and seriously in love. Its absolute joy to seesomeone live, so in complete command of their craft and to fortunately witness iton the intimate ACL Moody stage cannot easily be rivaled.

Set List:

  • What the Water Gave
  • Ship to Wreck
  • Rabbit Heart
  • Shake it Out
  • Delilah
  • Sweet Nothing (Harris)
  • How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
  • Queen of Peace
  • What Kind of Man
  • Spectrum
  • E:You Got the Love (Staton)
  • E:Dog Days Are Over

Tune in to the taping which should air sometime in October on your local PBS Station.

Below are some of my rough sketches from the show (in the dark) from the balcony.

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