On Thursday night I saw Florence and The Machine and it was like one of those memes of historical deep-cuts – ‘not a cellphone in sight, just people living in the moment x’ – but good, and in the flesh.
Okay, I’m lying a bit. Hundreds of phones lit up the O2 Arena in London where Florence was playing, just like they do at most gigs. When the south London artist shouted out Camberwell, where she grew up, or the small venues she played in her early twenties – “at one point a gig a day” – in places like the Old Blue Last and Nambucca, half the crowd were cheering with a phone in one hand.
You couldn’t not: the arena looked spectacular. The homecoming show in the UK’s second biggest venue had a visible impact on Florence – she said several different iterations of “we grew up just over there” throughout the night, grinning breathlessly and twisting her hands around one another in the way shy people do when speaking to a crowd, which Florence admitted she very much is. And you naturally wanted to take a little piece of it home with you, in the form of a picture or a video.
I took a whole bunch, but what I’m really bringing back with me is the memories. Hahaha, no but really though. Because at one point in the evening Florence stopped the show and connected the entire crowd in a moment so powerful it’s unlike anything I’ve witnessed at a gig in a looooooooong time. Yes, I’m talking about her getting people to put their phones away, and ugh – for real, I get it, what a lame topic, isn’t it usually greasy purists like Jack White who try and do this, and it’s really annoying, etc. But experiencing that part of the show and what came next was a genuinely potent experience (to get a fraction of an idea, see this video of her performing what looks like an exorcism in Leeds).
It was toward the end of “Dog Days Are Over” when Florence did a little bit about putting down your phone and living in the moment or something, except it went on for just long enough that there wasn’t a single phone aloft in the O2 Arena – with the crowd supporting her, looking around and spotting phones that were still lit. Then, Florence asked everyone turn and hug one another, to tell your friends that you love them. That all sounds like the standard patter you get at the more emotional arena shows. But in this case it was rendered a bit more impactful, for two reasons. One: the entire crowd of about 12,000 people were completely undistracted. And two: the euphoric high that powers through the climax of “Dog Days Are Over” was still to come – delayed gratification.
The song’s interlude had been playing throughout all of this – the bit where the drums play a little solo bit at the three-minute mark, before Florence launches vigorously back into “run fast for your mother and fast for your father” – but now, as it slowly began to get louder, Florence wished for the crowd to think of one thing to release and let go of from the past year. Oh, also when the chorus kicked back in she wanted everyone to jump up and down. And oh my god, I feel so fucking lame for writing this – like I said, a lot of this is standard stuff that happens at shows, is very Eat Pray Love, etc – but when it happened I really felt it: the release of a whole bunch of ugly stuff, and the welcoming in of love from my friend standing next to me. It was one of those proper moments that every arena show worth their money should have. I think it’s probably one of my favourites, too.
A big chunk of why that moment was so good is down to Florence. She’s a spectacular performer, one of the best of this generation; and you can also feel she’s feeling these things along with you – she's incredibly porous. Another part is that being a guy, I never really tell my friends I love them, nor do they tell me, and this year I’ve spent a lot of time feeling very lonely and sad and empty, so being able to let go of that and let something else in was wholesome.
Really and truly though, I don’t think any of that would have happened if the crowd still had their phones. By having thousands of people focus on one core task instead – love, release, etc – there was a genuine swell of energy in the room. It was kind of like magic, and I wouldn’t expect anything less from Florence. Even in the O2 she still performs barefoot.
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