Florence and the Machine dazzle in Brooklyn
NEW YORK — "Thank you to everyone for coming," Florence Welch greeted the enthusiastic crowd at Brooklyn's Music Hall of Williamsburg Tuesday night, limping to the stage for a "surprise" show announced on Monday. "I can't quite stand up for a really long time without the boot, so I might stay seated, if that's OK with you."
The Florence and the Machine frontwoman was of course referring to the "mini-boot" she's been forced to wear since breaking her foot at Coachella music festival last month, as a result of a stage-dive-gone-wrong. But the injury hasn't sidelined Welch, who has a full slate of festival shows this summer and third album How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful out June 2. Instead, the English songstress used it as an opportunity to deliver one of her most intimate and personable sets to date.
Fan favorites: Perched on a stool for the entirety of her nearly hour-and-a-half performance, Welch dipped into previous albums, Lungs and Ceremonials, for old favorites and less familiar cuts. Kicking off with Cosmic Love — backed only by a harp and acoustic guitar — Welch quickly reminded the crowd of her most invaluable instrument: her powerhouse voice, made only more impressive by the minimal arrangements. Continually leaving the audience spellbound (and blessedly smartphone-free), she brought them to church with ballad Breaking Down; resurfaced one of her earliest tunes, Hospital Beds; and earned knowing cheers for jubilant single Shake it Out.
Beautiful additions: Welch also sang her share of new material from the upcoming album (the upbeat Ship to Wreck, meditative St. Jude and electrifying What Kind of Man — a frenetic rock single that scaled USA TODAY's alternative chart this spring, and closed out her Tuesday set).
One of the biggest surprises of the evening was How Big's title track, which was partially heard in its muted, orchestral music video, but actually turned out to be one of the most thunderous performances of the night. The song was the first Welch wrote for the album, and was inspired by "a particular patch of American sky," she told the audience.
"It was kind of a time when I thought everything was exciting. I could fall in love at any second, and everything was boundless and hopeful," she continued. "It started with this feeling, and then as you can probably tell from the record, things get complicated."
Doing Neil Young proud: More than halfway through the show, Welch veered away from her catalog for a lilting, clear-voiced cover of Neil Young's Only Love Can Break Your Heart, accompanied by a guitar. Not only was it a musical highlight, but the anecdote that came with it also earned some of the heartiest laughs of the night.
Remembering when she performed with Young at a benefit last year, "I went to meet him backstage, and he was like, 'Oh, it's so nice to meet you finally, because when I first heard your record, I thought you were a man with a high voice,' " Welch laughed. "I was like, 'Thank you so much!' And he was like, 'Yeah, I live in the mountains, so I was like, 'Hey, a man called Florence — that's pretty punk!' And I was like, 'Thank you, Neil. I love you.' "
Personality shines through: Swaying in her seat, and dancing with her hands and arms, it was clear that Welch was eager to move around the stage — especially when she delivered her signature number Dog Days are Over. "If you want to know which song was the culprit for my broken foot, it was this one," she explained, encouraging the crowd a few minutes later to jump around midsong. "I've been told specifically not to (jump). It's hard for me not to, but you guys should!"
Although her injury prevented her from delivering her typically animated set, Welch's spot center stage ultimately gave the stripped-down performance a storytelling atmosphere, as she recounted often humorous tales behind each song in between swigs of water, and met applause with bashful giggles. She also charmed fans with her self-deprecating personality and quick wit.
When a concertgoer shouted for the audience to put away their phones, Welch reiterated, "Put the phones down." Without missing a beat, she grinned, "That's what she said."
The set list for the Florence and the Machine Brooklyn show:
All This and Heaven Too
Ship to Wreck
Shake It Out
How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
Only Love Can Break Your Heart (Neil Young cover)
Only If For a Night
Dog Days are Over
What Kind of Man