Florence + the Machine. Red Rocks. 07.25.12

The Florence + the Machine show almost didn’t happen due to Florence Welch’s damaged vocal chords, but if the fiery redhead in the white dress was feeling any pain last night, she hid it behind a stage presence almost as monumental as the Red Rocks Amphitheater in which it was unleashed.  Epic.  Grandiose.  Bold.  These are just petty words, and mere words cannot capture the ceremony witnessed on a perfect Colorado night.  Florence and her machine brought a moment of absolute beauty to a place that desperately needed reassurance — to a community that needs to believe there is ‘good’ in a world which harbors such senseless evil.  This combination of location, weather, timing and circumstance, coupled with music bordering on the spiritual, made for one hell of a rollercoaster ride through emotional highs and lows.  Singing, clapping and dancing could turn to silence, reflection and crying in a matter of seconds — with dry eyes and ecstasy right around the next bend.  The fact that I am not even a big Florence + the Machine fan should give weight to the words I just wrote.  The show was nothing less that spectacular.

Florence Welsh, with her extraordinary power and vocal range, is the obvious centerpiece of the London-based band, but to dismiss Isabella Summers on keys would be a great disservice.  The drummer was a maniac and the backup singers could be headliners themselves.  And the harp, everything is better with a harp.  The backing band provided the solid, strong foundation necessary for Welsh to run, spin, and furl herself all over the stage with an fearless abandonment.  And that’s really what she was, fearless.  For such a young artist, Welsh displays a level of confidence women like Sarah McLaughlin or Stevie Nicks took decades to gain.  I don’t think it’s too much to say she is one of the strongest voices (and performers) of her generation, and she’s only two albums in.

The set was heavy with material from 2011’s Ceremonials, with only a few tracks from Lungs thrown in.  And although I tend to prefer the debut album, it’s a testament to the power of her performance that I didn’t even notice the absence of “You Got the Love” until today.  The heart beating in the background of “Cosmic Love”; the call for sacrifices during “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)“; the contest for a kiss from Isabell Summers during “Spectrum” — there are literally too many highlights to list.  Welsch held everyone’s heart in her hand the entire show.  Like some kind of sorceress, she converted the nonbelievers effortlessly.  At one point she confessed that the beauty of the venue make it hard to concentrate on performing, but if this was an artist distracted, I think seeing her fully concentrate might be a little too much.

The main set ended with the larger-than-life “Dog Days Are Over”, leaving us soaring above the stage on a natural high,  but when they came back for the encore a few minutes later, we were grounded with a little reality.

…a few moments of silence for a town not far from here...”

There are good and bad ways for artists to interject current events into a performance, and then there are ways that are so honest and real you can’t help but be moved.  If you didn’t well up a little during those moments of silence, I doubt you’re human.  Every one of us has been touched by what happened in that theater in Aurora, but I don’t think it really hit me until we shut up for a minute and just thought about it.  We can talk all day, but sometimes it’s better to just take a minute and think on it.  “Never Let Me Go” was a perfect way to break the silence (unlike the person who yelled out), and “No Light No Light” ended a set that might have seemed a little short, but was never anything less than stunning.

The Walkmen were also amazing.  Opening with a great set of new and old material.  Not being a huge fan of their new album, “The Rat” and “In The New Year” were highlights for me.  I wish the crowd was more into them, but the dancing 7-year-old in front of me made up for the lack of enthusiasm among the rest of the sold-out crowd.

Only If For the Night
What the Water Gave Me
Cosmic Love
Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)
Breaking Down
Leave My Body
Seven Devils
Shake It Out
Dog Days Are Over

Never Let Me Go
No Light No Light