Back in 2009 I was watching the movie Jennifer’s Body. It was a dark comedy/horror movie written by Diablo Cody and was her big screen follow up to Juno. The film didn’t really work overall – putting Megan Fox in a starring role is risky – but I really loved the music that was used throughout. One song in particular jumped out at me right away:
You hit me once
I hit you back
You gave a kick
I gave a slap
You smashed a plate
Over my head
Then I set fire to our bed
Lyrics like that are pretty hard to ignore. I immediately went online to find out more about the soundtrack of the movie, but that song in particular. The singer had a voice like nothing I’d heard before.
And that marked my introduction to Florence + the Machine.
For the first time in a while, I was a little ahead of the curve when it came to music; while the group was already pretty popular in their native England, they hadn’t quite become a household name yet in America. After to listening to “Kiss with a Fist” multiple times on the soundtrack, I then sought out their debut album Lungs. What struck me about the album was how the fact that all their songs didn’t sound the same. The second single released, “The Dog Days Are Over” doesn’t sound much like “Kiss with a Fist.” Both are great songs, but in very different ways. A lot of artists don’t have that kind of versatility and even fewer choose to display it on their debut LP.
While I am sure that “the Machine” are all very talented musicians, the group to me really is the lead singer Florence Welch. That woman can sing. In a musical culture that is dominated by artists who get by with a little help from their friends (especially if one of those friends is auto-tune), it’s nice to see someone who really has musical talent and can belt out a tune. I have a tough time even knowing how to describe her voice. It’s very unique and I admit that some of their songs took me a few listens before I really liked them. Their music is haunting and has a dreamy quality to it. It totally engulfs you, whether you are ready for it or not.
So when Florence + the Machine rolled into town, it was a no brainer that I was going to go. This was a voice that I had to experience in person. And with the group planning on taking at least a year off, who knew when my next opportunity would be to see them. I was a bit nervous that the show might not happen, as they had cancelled some performances this summer after Welch’s vocal injury. But luck was on my side and after a full day of watching football (and seeing the Bills win!), it was time to hop on the Northway and head up to Saratoga.
The first thing I discovered was that there were way more people at this concert than I expected. I knew that Florence + the Machine had become pretty popular, but I had not expected as large of a crowd as was streaming into SPAC. A September show at an outdoor arena is a crap shoot, but apparently everyone was willing to brave the chilly night. The second thing I discovered is that though the group only has released two albums, they have very devoted fans. Though I enjoy the group quite a bit, compared to the majority of the people in attendance, I am just a casual fan. I’m notoriously terrible with the names of songs (ask anyone who has played me in SongPop) and Florence + the Machine is no exception. I don’t even know the lyrics to most of their songs. I was clearly in the minority; People were legitimately amped up for the show and there was a definite energy in the amphitheater. They got even more worked up when Florence took the stage.
The show was really mesmerizing. Because I didn’t know all the lyrics (a fact that the people sitting next to me should have appreciated), I was able to just let the music and her voice wash over me. I recognized all the songs, of course, but it was a different experience than I was used to at shows. I’m usually a more active participant, but somehow this just seemed more appropriate. Florence in person was just as hypnotizing as her voice is on their albums. There was no sign of any vocal strain and the music seemed to consume the entire amphitheater. Florence’s stage presence also gave the show a bit of a mystic quality; it some ways she reminded me a little of Stevie Nicks with all the twirling around the stage. She is definitely theatrical, which I don’t mean as a criticism; she obviously feels the music and lets it take over her body. She was bouncing all over the stage and constantly flourishing her arms. I was getting tired just watching her. The Machine was also fantastic; I don’t have a lot of musical training, but they sounded great to me and were a perfect accompaniment to Welch’s voice. And it’s not every day that you see a giant harp out on stage.
Some other thoughts:
- Of course, out of all the seats in the theater, I had to get the one seat behind the guy that was 6’. Matters were only complicated when everyone stood for the entire show; I spent the first 20 minutes trying to establish a clear sight line around him. They should have a special seating section for short people.
- I’m not usually one to notice sets at a concert – I’m usually more excited by pyrotechnics and lighting – but the set for Florence + the Machine was perfect. It had kind of an art deco quality that really worked with the mood of the evening. It would occasionally morph into something that looked like vintage stained glass, which was also appropriate. Florence has the air of being from a different time.
- She ran around the amphitheater during “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)” and I am always amused about how annoyed security looks when an artist ventures off the stage. They were probably also none too pleased when during the same song she encouraged the men in the audience to “raise up” the women they were with by putting them on their shoulders. Thank goodness the giant in front of me didn’t participate or I really wouldn’t have been able to see.
- There was an awesomely tense 10 minutes when I thought the woman sitting next to me was the ex-wife of an acquaintance. Said ex-wife is no fan of mine, so it was a relief when I realized that it wasn’t her. But that was a nerve wracking 10 minutes.
- In between the opening act (the Maccabees – pretty good) and the headliner, SPAC encourages people to send in texts that they display on the giant screens in the theater. While most of them were the usual nonsense, some of them were very funny and pop culture relevant. My favorites included:
Steve Holt! (An Arrested Development reference)
DJ Roomba in da House (A Parks and Recreation reference)
They call me Kevin the Enforcer (this just made me laugh, though I don’t know if this is a reference to anything)
I thought this was Nickelback.
The guy in front of me was cracking up at these too, which is when I decided to not hate him for being so tall.
- People also texted in an inordinate number of marriage proposals. I have to assume they weren’t all legitimate, but as far as proposals go, I can’t imagine anything much worse than someone asking you to marry them via a text at a concert.
- As I was walking into the show, I heard the ticket takers say that no one looked happy to be going to the concert. I’m guessing that was because people were realizing that while they were excited about the show, they were aniticpating that a Sunday night show probably meant a rough Monday morning. At least that was what was going through my head.
- Leaving the concert, I was walking behind a group of people wearing costumes; we’re talking legitimate capes and masks and glitter -the works. Have kids always been this weird? And yes, I realize this observation makes me sound 102 years old.
- Dear SPAC – it wouldn’t kill you to put some more lighting on the pedestrian bridge. Asking people to walk through a slightly wooded area in the dark is just asking for trouble.
- I made a total rookie mistake last night in my footwear choice. While my knee high boots were an OK choice for watching football, they were not a good choice for a concert where you were standing the whole time and had to walk across a not paved parking lot. I almost broke my ankle when Florence told everyone in the audience to jump at the same time. For someone who has been to as many concerts as I have, I should have known better.
- Years of navigating the parking lot at Ralph Wilson Stadium after a Bills game have made me pretty great at defensive driving. I got out of the SPAC parking lot pretty quickly.
- I defy you to listen to “The Dog Days are Over” and not want to get up and dance. She closed the show with this number and the joy in the theater was palpable.
All in all it was a really nice night last night. I’m glad that I got to see Florence + the Machine live; it amplified the already moving experience that I’ve had listening to the cds. I left the show somehow emotionally altered from how I entered; I felt slightly disoriented, but in a good way. Even the chilly night air added to the overall ambiance of the show. I wasn’t even that disappointed that she didn’t sing the song that started my whole fascination with the band. I am a bigger fan of the group post-show than I was beforehand. That speaks volumes about the concert.
Only If for a Night
Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)
Leave My Body
Lover to Lover
Shake It Out
What the Water Gave Me
Dog Days Are Over