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Music by VICE

Bow Down: Florence + the Machine Returns to Coachella to Stake Her Claim as Festival Queen

Technically Drake headlined Coachella's final night, but Florence’s finale was undoubtedly the day’s most thrilling.

by Leonie Cooper
Apr 13 2015, 3:00pm

Photo by Kevin Winter via Getty.

Much has been made of the dearth of female artists on this summer’s festival bills. From Coachella to Reading and Leeds, it’s been suggested that there just aren’t enough ovary-owning acts with a profile big enough to cope with putting on a show on the big, butch stages of many major league fests. Which is all crap of course: from Kate Bush and Björk to Fleetwood Mac and Beyoncé, there are plenty of acts capable of going toe-to-toe with the Jack Whites and Metallicas of this world.

Aside from Madonna’s surprise appearance during Drake’s set—notable mainly for the duo’s slightly shameless make-out session—Florence Welch is the highest female act on the Coachella bill. Sure, Angel Olsen, Jenny Lewis, and Azealia Banks can be found loitering around the afternoon slots, but after sundown it’s only Flo, St. Vincent and FKA twigs for the entire three days of the festival.

The renowned shoe-shunner skips onto the stage, barefoot as usual, and breaks into "What The Water Gave Us" from her second album Ceremonials. A song inspired by Virginia Plath’s watery suicide, it’s as close as we’ve got to a feminist statement all weekend, something which is seriously needed when Noisey realizes that last year’s fashion craze for the underbutt is not only alive as well, but has gobsmackingly morphed into a the side-vagina. Prancing about in a shiny white trouser suit, it’s also heartening to see a female performer who doesn't feel compelled to perform in skimpy underwear. It might not seem like much of a earth-shattering statement, but when we see Flying Lotus walk into his 3D cube in nothing but a pair of snug boxer briefs or Ryan Adams strap on his guitar over a diamante studded posing pouch, then maybe we’ll pipe down. Even when Florence flings off her shirt at the end of her set, after encouraging her audience to take off an item of clothing each, she’s doing it because she’s basically treating her career as one massive game of Truth or Dare, not to pander to lascivious whims of the music industry.

The classic Coachella trick of bringing out endless special guest after special guest is shunned tonight. “Does anyone here know Calvin Harris?” asks Florence to cheers. The EDM contingent are out of luck. Mercifully, Calvin doesn’t creep out from the wings to stand behind some decks looking vacant while punching the air repeatedly: Florence instead sings "Sweet Nothing" backed only by her band. Another standout moment comes in the shape of "Ship to Wreck," the latest single to be released from Florence’s forthcoming third album, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. The kind of song that will be instantly familiar to anyone born to an 80s mum, it’s equal parts Tracey Chapman and Suzanne Vega, a bouncy, soul-pop jam that somehow stays on the tasteful side of suburban perms and dancing in the kitchen after one too many glasses of rosé wine.

Every bit as magnetic as Freddie Mercury or Janis Joplin, Florence’s stage presence rests in her seeming disregard for the conventions of a female pop performer. None of her mad dashes into the crowd to embrace and kiss fans seem planned—even if they are—and the cameras have a hard time keeping up with her as she sprints across the production runs and dips headfirst into the front few rows of her dedicated, far-reaching crowd. Drake might technically have headlined the final night of Coachella, but Florence’s performance was without a shadow of a doubt the day’s most thrilling.

Leonie does not endorse side-vagina under any circumstances. Follow her on Twitter.

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