Florence + The Machine Brought Hope, Power And Cosmic Love to Sydney
Once again, Florence Welch proved she's one of the greats.
After the unfortunate departure of pop wunderkind Billie Eilish from this tour, it’s up to two acts from the Australasian contingent to fill the void as the sun sets over 28,000 people in the Domain.
Marlon Williams and Jack River are at similar developmental stages of their respective careers, with plenty of momentum and acclaimed recent albums to their name. They’re also both flanked by a slew of excellent side players — that’s Dan Luscombe from The Drones in Williams’ band, for instance; and there’s Little May alumni Annie Hamilton backing River.
It’s interesting to watch the two back to back, comparing and contrasting their approach to a performance at such a scale — hell, if you want to see if an artist will thrive, throw them in the deep end and see what happens.
Williams fares well, shifting his on-stage persona depending on what he’s playing. He has a Randy Newman swagger when he’s behind the piano, embodying fellow six-foot-fiver Jack Ladder when he’s playing guitar and going full Nick Cave when he’s just singing unattached. Kid can sing, too – he’s a classic crooner with a bit of grit peppered in for good measure, making his songs all the more compelling to listen to, not to mention look at.
When it comes to River, however, the magic just isn’t there tonight. Her synth-driven, processed pop has no real drive to it – there’s enough there to absent-mindedly nod your head along to, but you’d struggle to recite a lyric or sing a refrain from the song you just heard after it finishes.
It says a lot that the biggest reaction she gets during her set is a cover of the late-90s power-pop classic ‘She’s So High’ by Tal Bachmann. She just can’t quite nail the big swing required of an open-air show.
2019 marks 10 years since Florence + The Machine arrived as a global pop entity, delivering a late-entry classic of the 2000s in her debut Lungs. With every return visit to Australia, the band have ascended to bigger and bigger spaces — so much so that this and the tour previous tour were unable to be contained to indoor facilities.
The moon has risen when our headliners arrive in the most fitting of fanfare: flashing light, swelling ambient drones and a spotlight shining down on the lady of the hour herself, Florence Welch. ‘June’ and ‘Hunger’ — both taken from last year’s excellent High as Hope — set the tone for the evening, showcasing the immense collective talent of the nine people on stage.
Welch’s voice hits heavens-high notes, and rings out with the utmost clarity atop the extensive musical arrangements.
Welch’s voice hits heavens-high notes, and rings out with the utmost clarity atop the extensive musical arrangements. You could be taking a train from Bondi Junction while she’s singing and still be able to make out the choral maximalism that defines songs like ‘Ship to Wreck’ or ‘Only If for a Night.’
The centrepiece of the set itself comes with an extended performance of ‘Dog Days Are Over,’ essentially the song that started it all for Florence + The Machine a decade and change prior.
It’s a testament to the staying power of Welch and co. certainly, but it’s also a testament to the people power of this en-masse audience. How so? Think about it: It’s hard enough to get people to do a 4/4 clap-along at the best of times. To get this many people to do the slightly-more advanced “clap-clap, clap” in perfect time is nothing short of impressive.
Also of note is the performance of ‘Cosmic Love,’ which was also on the Lungs album and has served as a fan favourite ever since. Even back in the day of playing small theatres and clubs, songs like this highlighted just how Welch was projecting beyond them — it’s full of thunderous drums, multi-tracked vocals and even a harp.
Witnessing the song being played in this environment — that being the biggest headlining Sydney show the band has ever played — felt like coming full circle in many ways.
Fireworks — surprisingly, unexpectedly — go off in the distance about halfway through the show. Normally, it would seem fitting. Tonight, however, it’s an ugly reminder of the other bullshit that goes on this particular date of January 26.
A beautiful welcome to country that opened the evening served as a reminder of what needs to be commemorated and acknowledged, and it’s a relief that only a few stop to rubberneck at the fireworks display. After all, we have all the fireworks we need right in front of us. As Welch tells us, we have the power to make change. Tonight feels like a positive step on that journey.
David James Young is a writer and podcaster with a drumming noise inside his head. Maybe it’s tinnitus. He tweets at @DJYwrites.
Photo credit: Mikki Gomez