Twas the summer of 2009. Dressed in a leather playsuit and with a mane of crimson she scaled the stage rigging during her standout set at Reading Festival. In that very moment I fell head over heels for Flo. Since then I have become somewhat infatuated with the indie-pop princess turned fully-fledged fashionista and as you can imagine I was as giddy as a school girl when she announced a UK tour. You can imagine it right? OK now imagine my complete and utter dismay at trying and failing miserably to bag myself a ticket to said tour. Yup. KMT. But where there's a will there is most definitely a way and being a stubborn little ladette I certainly wasn't taking no for an answer. And so after much eBaying, begging and bartering on Thursday 8th March I was Norf LDN bound, ticket in hand, poised to see Florence and her magnificent Machine take on the Ally Pally. Success!
Upon arrival my two hot chickitas and I negotiated our way to the bar (priorities) and then to a blinding spot stage left just in time to catch the first of the nights support acts. Man was I glad that I did. With a combo of boyish banter from charismatic frontman Fred Macphearson and tracks as punchy and as sharp as their suits the band calling themselves Spector more than tickled my fancy. In fact I have to admit that I may have fallen a little bit in love. Just a little bit mind. The next band assigned to pre-heat the Ally Pally oven were long-haired lovelies The Horrors. I'm ashamed to say that I have been somewhat lax at getting my ears around this much praised posse, I know boo hiss etc. However after witnessing them shred their way through a grungy electro fulled set I made it my priority to add their NME award-winning album Skying to my Spotify playlist.
Before you could say Ceremonials it was time for the main event. The curtain drops and a pimped out 'Machine' takes its place on stage augmented by a choir, full string section and harpist Tom Monger. As the lights come up it becomes apparent that we are in for something special, something very special indeed. The Machine revs it's engine and the chiming bells of Only If For A Night echo around both the 'People's Palace' and my Florence loving heart. Flo appears from behind a humongous art-deco screen and is met with raucous cheers. A breathtaking floor-length Alex Noble cape adorns her shoulders and her trademark tresses are tied back in braids. Despite the elaborate stage production and her resplendent get up from the moment Florence unleashes the pitch perfect opening line with effortless power we are under no illusion that the focus is still very much on her soulful, elastic voice.
With Only If For A Night being a personal favourite it did occur to me that my Flo experience might have peaked a tad early. Balls. I needn't have worried my pretty little head though. Welch proceeded to belt out track after dark, robust, romantic track from the Ceremonials LP that we have all come to know and bloody well adore. We raised our hands to the sky for the rock-gospel Leave My Body, howled and hooted along to thunderous singles Shake It Out and No Light No Light as well losing ourselves in the tribal, operatic assault that is Heartlines. A song which she dedicated to her dear old Mum in the audience. Bless. The majestic Spectrum made for a mighty main-set closer with it's dramatic crescendos and anthemic chorus that are testimony to Flo's superb songwriting skills. However it was her spine-tingling performance of the epic and evocative Never Let Me Go that rightly deserved it's show closing credentials.
A series of hits from her 4million selling debut album Lungs also went down a storm. Obvy. Big drums and a runaway piano melody signal the start of Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up) and the fact that a) there's a full moon and b) she was performing to an oestrogen charged arena was clearly not lost on Florence. "It's International Women's Day!" she trilled as she instructed as many girls as possible to be hoiked onto the shoulders of their male companions. Sans man-friend for the night my feet remained firmly on the ground. Oh and the crowd participation didn't stop there. Flo soon invited us to pogo along with her to the uber uplifting Dog Days Are Over, a crowd carousing tactic that loyal fans and festival goers will have been more than familiar with. The set takes a turn for the euphoric during Cosmic Love. The ethereal sounds of Monger's harp compliment both the sublimely somber lyrics and Flo's heroic vocal to perfection, creating a moment that was simply, well magical.
Standout track of the night? Without a doubt I'd have to say Florence's extended symphonic rendition of Candi Staton's You've Got The Love. Predictable I know but what can I say it ruddy well moved me. Close to tears in fact. Accompanied solely by the string section Flo's remarkable range was heightened and made for a truly enchanting intro to this illustrious track. Tears pricked my eyes and my bottom lip trembled as I crooned along word for word. Yeah it got totes emosh. Mercifully the percussion pounded in, picking up the pace and preventing me from snotting all over my nice new H&M blazer.
As I floated out of Alexandra Palace it wasn't hard to ascertain how Florence + The Machine have gone from playing to small crowds in small theatres to selling out huge arenas all within the space of four years. In spite of the sheer size of this flamboyant venue tonight's gig retained an intimate charm and, satisfyingly, the band's windy, undulating melodies feel much more at home in this beautiful brick palace than they do on a pair of headphones. Yes even Dr Dre's Beats. Florence is of course the star of the show with the talent and temerity to pull off the melodrama, effortlessly transforming the ridiculous into the sublime. Whirling, twirling, pirouetting and prancing barefoot around the stage like some kind of a regal-mystical-toreador-sorceress Florence's excitement to be back in her home town was infectious. "It feels so good" she beams. And you know what love, twas so good to have you back an' all.