I don’t think that anyone can question that Florence Welch has tremendous pipes and could probably break the stained-glass windows of a church with her voice. Florence + The Machine have become a household name ever since their massive single “Dog Days Are Over” off their debut album Lungs invaded the radio waves. Since 2009, the band has been pretty much everywhere. They’ve toured all over the world and earned their stripes as a d*mn good live band.
This is a critical juncture for the band. Since January of this year, they’ve appeared on Saturday Night Live, The Voice, American Idol, and the rest of the late-night TV show circuit, as well as receiving a major co-headlining gig at Coachella this year. They will either continue to make that step forward, getting bigger by moving towards playing arenas, stay stagnant by being that indie band that has a lot of promise but is having trouble putting all of the pieces together, or fall off the map completely. That’s why I was so excited to see them play at Radio City Music Hall.
Playing Radio City Music Hall is a big deal for a musician. It’s one of the pinnacles of an artist’s career. I previously watched them destroy the stage at Le Poissant Rouge and at Terminal 5 during their promotions of Lungs. I have also seen her rock festivals at Austin City Limits and at this year’s Coachella music festival. May 8th show was being broadcast live on FUSE, so I expected nothing but the best from Florence and the gang. Unfortunately, something must have been in the water that night because I didn’t love the performance. I understand that this is the Ceremonials tour and that the band needs to promote the album, but I just personally haven’t resonated enough with that album yet to place it near the greatness level of Lungs.
Tracks off the new album dominated the set and her voice didn’t seem as strong as I expected. Something was wrong with it. She wasn’t attacking the songs like I’ve heard her do in the past or how it usually comes across in her albums. Florence was almost undercutting the melody at some points and one of their greatest attributes is the power and control of Welch’s voice. The lack of power from Welch would be a continued theme throughout the rest of the night. She had opportunities to show off her huge vocal ability and faltered. Many times she didn’t even attempt. She left the crowd to sing many of the lyrics to “Rabbit Heart,” “Shake It Out,” and their anthem, “Dog Days Are Over.”
The lighting and staging of the set, which was somewhat set up like a cathedral, was a little over the top for me. Florence and the Machine are all about theatrics which is one of the ways in which they separate themselves from the other indie bands who are trying to make their own paths to success in today’s music world. Florence and her machine, for which she does not give enough credit to, in my opinion, left the crowd at Radio City wanting more. Welch seems to have this Gwen Stefani-No Doubt like relationship going on with her band. The show is truly all about her. The spot light is all about her. And it was way too bright throughout much of the performance making her look almost goddess-like. I don’t think that was the band’s intent.
There is no question that Florence Welch is a star, and she is filling the powerhouse female rocker void well. She is mysterious and sexy, dark and delicate, all at the same time. I’m not sure if Florence and the Machine are ready to make that next step just yet. I think they need to refine their sets and establish a way to get hungry again like they did when they first came on the scene. The show seemed over produced to me. It didn’t feel as authentic of a musical experience as I wanted it to be. It felt like they were playing it safe. Maybe that was for the TV’s or maybe it was to make Florence as much of a household name as Heinz ketchup. But the band needs to figure out its identity and how to establish longevity while maintaining its freshness and relevancy. Florence Welsh has the goods to do that. She has the potential to be a real game changer. I hope that she’s not just happy she’s a part of the game, because she has the tools to be legendary, if she doesn’t get complacent. It’s a juggling act, and I hope that the machine doesn’t drop any balls.
Having said all of that, I have never felt Radio City’s mezzanine shake like it did during “Dog Days Are Over.” It’s absolutely a testament to the band’s sound, their fans, and their music, but they can still get better. There is no questioning Florence Welch’s star power, and she’s filling the role of powerhouse female rocker well. I hope that she’s not just happy she’s a part of the game, because she has the tools to be legendary, if she doesn’t get complacent. It’s a juggling act, and I hope that the machine doesn’t drop any balls.