Florence + the Machine, Grimes
Cynthia Woods Pavilion
May 17, 2016
It’s often said that stars are born and not made, but this is certainly less than accurate in today’s music landscape. In 2016, just about anything can be created in a lab, but just like synthetic hair feels like plastic
and artificial strawberry tastes like shit, manufactured talent pales in comparison to a God-given gift. Tuesday night’s Florence + the Machine concert was nothing less than spectacular, curated by actual musicians rather than marketers, showcasing one of the world’s best talents.
From the opening buzz of the band’s instruments, Tuesday’s crowd at Cynthia Woods Pavilion was on its feet. In front of a glitter-shingled backdrop illuminated by a soft glow of color-changing lighting strode Florence Welch, the unmistakable powerhouse singer of the group, handing giant flowers to excited pit spectators. In a sheer full-length gown with cascading waves of crimson hair, Florence looked like ethereal magic embodied, a mystical blend of Robert Plant, Stevie Nicks, Merlin and British royalty. As “What the Water Gave Me” began, Welch mesmerized the crowd with a voice and persona that is equal parts rock and regal.
It did not take the audience more than one song to realize the undeniable reality that live, Florence sounds just as good as, if not better than, any recording of her that exists. Her voice is nothing short of a remarkable instrument, and like any musician endowed with genius, she has the utmost control over it. “Ship to Wreck” showcased her famous vibrato, which never seems overwrought or fussy, but rather organic and passionate.
“Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up)” had Welch running like a wild fox through the audience, to the back of the Pavilion and back to the front of the stage. Naturally, the crowd went berserk. “Shake it Out,” a crowd favorite, was unreal. Only four songs in, the audience was wondering how the show could get any better.
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“Delilah” showcased Welch’s higher register. FATM fans all love the singer’s caramel-laden mezzo-soprano, but fewer songs push her into a full falsetto. To hear this live was gorgeous. “Sweet Nothing,” the summer dance track by Calvin Harris that we all still love four years after its release, was an unexpected surprise. The stripped-down version was a highlight of the evening.
Just six songs in, the show felt like being at the top of a roller coaster right before its imminent plunge. Somehow, the performance managed to climb higher and higher, with no drop in sight. “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful” had Welch recalling the last time the band performed in Houston, and how much they’ve loved this city for its warm embrace. The raw power in this song soared: Florence is fire incarnate. Powerful but restrained, never burning out, passionate and hot. This woman, plainly, is special.
“Cosmic Love” made the audience feel they were watching an angel come to earth. “Long and Lost,” “Mother” and “Queen of Peace” were solidly beautiful. “Spectrum” had Welch telling the audience, “If you did sit down just then, you’re going to want to stand for this one.” The ten people who had previously sat were back on their feet.
“You’ve Got the Love” had Welch showing more appreciation to Houston and asking the audience to take that love and bring it back out into the world, because as she accurately stated, “The world needs love.” The song reiterated the other theme of the night: the things that this woman can do with her voice seem almost unnatural. It’s effortless, pure, raw talent. To the audience’s surprise, the regular set closed with FATM’s biggest commercial hit (and typical encore song) “Dog Days are Over.” Welch had everyone take off an article of clothing, “wave it above your heads, kiss each other, love each other and tell one another you love each other!” The set closed with spectacle and warmth.
After a brief break, the band returned for “What Kind of Man,” a performance reminiscent of Freddie Mercury, complete with more running through the crowd and an eventual dramatic crash into the floor of the stage. Last of the night was “Drumming Song,” closing out a beautiful night in Houston.
If Florence + the Machine taught Houston anything on Tuesday night, it’s that the world is in need of two things: love, sweet love, and musicians with true talent who aren’t afraid to burn bright.
So, How Was the Opener? Canadian artist Grimes has generated a great deal of buzz over the past few years, and unlike with most new supposed “breakout acts,” all this attention has been completely deserved. In all fairness, an entire separate story could be written about this art-rich performance. Grimes is a total badass: She sings, dances, runs her production, plays multiple instruments and has a yell on her that would make most screamo boys whimper with jealousy. Her stage show was transfixing, including two exceptional dancers and another badass female singer. Grimes’s opening set restored faith that there actually is new music that is interesting and creative and different and good.
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Personal Bias: No shade to the rest of the group, but it was nearly impossible for me to notice that anyone else was even onstage other than Florence. The backup singers were lovely, I know there was a huge electric harp, and two songs showcased some fantastic piano…but I had to force myself to look away and acknowledge that other humans existed. She is a supernova.
The Crowd: APPRECIATION!! This crowd was awesome. From the moment that FATM walked onstage to the last seconds of the encore, the entire pavilion was on its feet, showing mad love for the group. My heart be still – this was a GREAT Houston crowd!
Overheard in the Crowd: “She’s so pretty it could make you cry” — my boyfriend, who has a thing for hair, and was also correct.
Random Notebook Dump: Google “The Lady of Shallot.” This gorgeous painting was based on a Tennyson poem, and I’m not entirely sure that its muse wasn’t Florence Welch in a past life.