All photos by Guy Eppel.
Here's the thing about Florence Welch: she's always in motion. A whirling dervish of a woman filled with the buoyancy of a seven year old on Christmas day. To stop her skipping through life would be to get ploughed down by a stampede of nut-starved squirrels. But last night, in front of 500 fans at Brooklyn's Music Hall of Williamsburg, FloMac was relegated to a stool—bounding across the stage, twirling to her own tunes was an activity strictly verboten: she's resting a broken her foot thanks to a gleeful leap from the Coachella stage a few weeks back.
Despite her injury and unsightly boot (not quite the accessory to top off velvet pants and a sheer silk shirt), Welch is in high spirits, controlling the audience sing-alongs with conductor's hands held aloft. She kicks off her three album-straddling set with a stripped down version of oldie "Cosmic Love"—still one of her finest tunes. Even without the thunderous drums punctuating each chorus line—"No dawn / No day / I'm always in this twilight / In the shadow of your heart"—it still sounds potent, striking a resonant blow with anyone who's ever felt the devastation of fucked up love. Solitude can be scary.
Twisted knives and shattered hearts have always been the grist in this 28-year-old's mill—a fact which she recognizes, sagely noting: "Broken bones mend faster than broken hearts, so hopefully this won't take as long as this record did."
How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful will drop on 6.2, the follow up to 2011's emotive opus Ceremonials, an album which built on the critical plaudits and early hype of Lungs and made her an internationally in-demand performer. Judging by the title track, and other newies trotted out tonight like "Ship to Wreck," closer "What Kind of Man," and with the exception of the relatively spartan "St. Jude," it seems the London singer is set to continue sailing her baroque-pop ship into ever more fantastical waters. That's not to say that her music is becoming weirder—in fact her bent is more mainstream than ever, her hooks more in your face. These days her maximalist pop is amped up by added brass and backing singers, and lead, as ever, by Welch's powerful choir-girl-gone rogue vocals. By contrast, in the moments of hush between the songs, she's soft-spoken—sweet and giggly as a (boarding) school girl.
At one point she covers Neil Young's "Only Love Can Break Your Heart," which brings out a less strident tonality to her delivery. According to Welch—who was late to join the Young appreciation club—when she first met the folk legend he said: "When I first heard you I thought you were a man: Hey a man called Florence! That's pretty punk!" Titters from the crowd all round.
Penultimate song "Dog Days Are Over" remains a set highlight, a song that would normally see her careening around the stage, a blur of flowing fabric, a barefoot imp, but at this show the crowd do the moshing instead. Even with ten members behind her, this is a wildly intimate gig for a star who's set to headline Glastonbury in less than two months, a singer who's played London's historic Royal Albert Hall flanked by a full blown orchestra, a muse to fashion label Mulberry, a favorite of Karl Lagerfeld, and heck, Gucci deigned to design her tour wardrobe last time she looped the world. It's a long way from playing ramshackle Green Day covers with Dev Hynes at a sticky-floored London club night called Frog. Welch is a Big Deal, but she's also still a charming south London girl who vascilates, both in person and in song, between a state of romantic melancholy and saucer-eyed wonder at the world. Somehow she manages to be both a relatable goofball and an otherwordly siren. Welch is made of some kind of magic for sure.