I will dance to almost any kind of music, but there are few artists whose discography I know intimately, memorizing not just lyrics but CD track numbers, knowing that she hits the high note on the studio album but sings more alto on the unplugged edition. And because I am generally not a concert-going person, it takes a pretty huge musical obsession for me to shell out the big bucks to see someone live.
Meet my current obsession:
Florence Welch. Oh, Flo, how I love you. And how appropriate, too, that her name jives so well with my blog?
Ever since I heard “Cosmic Love” in the trailer for Water for Elephants and then starting seeing more of her music being used on So You Think You Can Dance (especially Caitlynn and Marko’s routine to “Heavy in Your Arms“), Florence and the Machine has become a regular guest on my computer playlists and in my car stereo. I ordered both Lungs and Ceremonials on Amazon; by fate, they were waiting at my house the evening I came home from a wildly wonderful 5Rhythms class on a Friday night in March. The fact that I had just danced for 2 hours didn’t stop me from dancing nearly 2 more as I excitedly slid the CDs into the stereo, my hungry body inhaling and consuming every last morsel from “Dog Days Are Over” to “You’ve Got the Love”, “Only If for a Night” to “Bedroom Hymns.” Her music simply fell into my lap at the right moment, my 5Rhythms-inspired energy field attracting and trapping each song like a moth to a light.
Watching Florence’s videos, particularly “Shake It Out,” added a new dimension to my love for her. Even now, just thinking about the scene with her in that black velvet dress, being seductively dipped and flung about by the mysterious masked men in the private bedroom (minute 2:05, to be exact), I get the chills. The way her fingers grasp her partner’s hand, flutter on the back of his shoulder…every move of hers is so deliberate and precise, as clear as the notes she sings. The whole video reminds me of most of my 5Rhythms experiences, one minute drunkenly careening left and right with my wide eyes fixed on some invisible force that has possessed my gyrating body, the next minute fixed in one spot, my trembling fingers reaching out for another’s arm, the way Florence stands in curious stillness as a gold mask is placed upon her nervous-yet-open-to-experimentation face (1:33).
That said, it’s not just Florence’s music and lyrics that move me; it’s her. She carries herself with a fascinating combination of elegant confidence and poignant possession, her eyes and hands fluttering with such delicateness during one song and then widening psychotically during the next. Her videos made me as obsessed with her demeanor as I was with her music, and I wanted to see her live. I didn’t care about production value—things like pyrotechnics, fancy choreography, or special guest appearances. I simply wanted to witness an artist completely one with her music, like watching a Kripalu yogi enter Stage 3 meditation-in-motion, prana at the helm. I wanted to see and feel that energy.
I missed out on her first Ceremonials U.S. tour when she was in nearby Atlantic City, but lucky for me she returned to my backyard in South Jersey 4 months later. I bought my ticket while at work; my manager knew how crazy I was about Florence and actually rescheduled a meeting so I could be at my desk at 10 a.m. when the tickets went on sale. I scored a great seat three rows behind the pit, smack in the center.
However, in the time leading up to the concert, I started to regret my purchase. I had only bought a single ticket for myself; none of my friends were obsessed or had already seen her in Atlantic City. It was pricey, and buyer’s remorse and the fact that I’d be there alone started to eat at me. I was afraid her music would make me too emotional, that I’d have some kind sobbing fangirl reaction and not have anyone there to help me through it. I actually tried to sell my ticket!
Well, luckily, no one bought it, and I eventually grew comfortable again with the notion of going alone.
But the beauty of the night was that I was not there alone. I was surrounded with men and women who were as touched by Florence’s music as I was, who felt that raising their palms to meet Florence’s was also a way of following the heartlines in their hands. So often I took my eyes off the stage to glance behind me, amazed at the hundreds of pairs of eyes all glowing from the glory of her sound. When I looked back at the stage, I felt like Florence was singing just for us—not for money or stardom or fame or fortune—her connection with the crowd so palpable, as if each time she reached her arms outward she was collecting the energy we were exuding, transforming it, and then radiating it back in our direction, a continuous loop of musical magic.
Here’s what she offered:
• Only If For a Night
• Drumming Song
• Cosmic Love
• Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)
• Spectrum (Say My Name)
• Lover to Lover
• Leave My Body
• Breath of Life
• Shake It Out
• No Light, No Light
• What the Water Gave Me
• Dog Days Are Over
As you can see in the photo above, her stained glass, art deco-inspired set was pretty impressive, the background changing with each song; however, my eyes were focused on Florence for the majority of the performance. Again, the way her body reacts to the music made the concert a bit of an art show, like she was a living, breathing sculpture. During “Cosmic Love” she teetered on her toes like a beginner ballerina, but immediately afterward during “Rabbit Heart” she was making a mad dash in the aisles, returning to the stage with burning shakti eyes, her body popping sharply as though she was having a seizure, the music reverberating from her head to her toes.
Before Florence, the only other musician to whom I gave myself fully was Alanis Morissette. When Alanis performs live, her fingers and hands curl a bit rigidly into what look like spontaneous mudras; Florence’s hands have a similar energetic reaction but look more like the hands of a Reiki healer, a nurturing, angelic quality embodied in each fingertip.
When her beautiful hands weren’t doing the speaking, it was her eyes that grabbed the audience, at times so possessed by the music that she appeared to be in a trance. “Breath of Life” was probably the most viscerally powerful song for me; the music is intense, and she progressed from commanding the stage to losing control, her body thrashing around in a hypnotic dance of chaos—my body followed along. Emotionally, I was touched most by “Heartlines”; again, when she extended her palm to the audience, I felt like she was transmitting some kind of blessing, and I raised my hand in return. (I totally cried at the end.)
I loved that the audience knew by ONE drawn-out organ note that “Shake It Out” was next, and having the chance to see “What the Water Gave Me” live turned what was a so-so song for me into a new favorite. Now when I hear that song, all I think about is Florence whipping her flame-red hair around, casting a spell on the music that comes from her mouth. She’s a magician! A witch! An alchemist!
Her concert wasn’t so much a performance as it was an act of service: I have this gift, and I need to share it with you. It was one of the first times I understood why fans throw themselves at artists’ feet; I was so touched by what she was giving me that I knew no other way of expressing my gratitude than lifting my arms to the heavens, grabbing at the invisible energy above our heads, and lowering it to my heart, saying aloud, “Oh, she’s so beautiful.”