Florence and the Machine, Blood Orange Bayou Music Center May 2, 2012
If you skipped Florence and the Machine's show at Bayou Music Center on Wednesday, you might be out of luck. The English indie-poppers aren't likely to be playing the theater again anytime soon.
Judging by the sold-out crowd's enthusiastic response to the band's electrifying performance, Flo and the bros seem destined to be playing amphitheaters instead on the group's next trek through the U.S.
The drinks started flowing and the cameras started flashing almost as soon as the venue's doors opened Wednesday night as an army of young ladies wearing their cutest dresses filed in, boyfriends in tow. Clearly, this was a concert many had been looking forward to for some time -- at least since Florence + the Machine released their latest album, Ceremonials, last October. Given the rate at which pocket Canons were snapping away before the music even began, full play-by-play coverage of the show could probably be found live on Facebook.
Blood Orange, the guitar/electronica project from Lightspeed Champion mastermind Devonté Hynes, warmed up the crowd as people filtered into the theater. Hynes was born in Houston and raised in Essex, England, but his set didn't quite receive the down-home welcome of a homecoming gig.
People in the crowd chatted, stood in line for beer and applauded politely as he worked through tracks like "Sutphin Boulevard" and "Bad Girls" on his Fender Strat, backed by a laptop and sequencer combo.
Hynes showed off some nifty finger-tapping riffs and a spot-on Jimi Hendrix shimmy, but the fact remained inescapable that he was neither Florence nor machine. I spotted a lot of folks absently checking their smartphones as he wrapped up his set in front of the huge stage curtain.
The energy picked up big time when that curtain came down and Florence's stage set was revealed. The stained-glass set dressings, combined with the piano, organ and harp onstage, gave the cavernous theater the feel of a church sanctuary, and when vocal dynamo Florence Welch appeared wearing a flowing black robe, she could have passed for clergy.
Or Stevie Nicks. Maybe Stevie Nicks if she'd pursued a career in ministry. As the band lit into "Only If for the Night," the opening track from Ceremonials, Welch twirled and swirled her robe around her with all the eccentric mystique of the Fleetwood Mac frontwoman.
The band surrounding Welch onstage was large -- eight musicians total, including two backup singers. But the black-clad backing group seemed to disappear into the shadows as soon as Florence opened her mouth. Wow.
Welch's dynamic voice morphed effortlessly from a soft lilt to strong, impassioned moans, captivating the capacity crowd beginning with her first note. There was no question who the star was on Wednesday night.
The band's set was heavy on material from Ceremonials, including the plaintive, pounding "What the Water Gave Me" and the driving rock of "Spectrum." Some of the most ecstatically received songs, however, came from the group's 2009 debut, Lungs. Fans danced and clapped along as Welch belted out "Between Two Lungs," and the crowd was happy to oblige her request to hoist a few ladies onto their shoulders during "Rabbit Heart" as the smiling singer bopped across the stage.
It was hard to miss the show's contemporary-worship vibe, even when Welch cast off her robe and revealed an altogether Nicksian sheer black dress and scarf. The redheaded singer packed all the power of a complete church choir into her vocals, particularly in the crowd favorite "Lover to Lover." As her voice soared again and again, hands shot up across the floor as audience members appeared to lift up their testimony.
Ladies in the crowd even bestowed offerings upon their idol, tossing a large pink bra onstage at one point. Welch, for her part, seemed delighted.
"Is this a gift for me?" she squealed. "I think you've slightly overestimated the cup size!" The bra adorned skinsman Chris Hayden's bass drum for the rest of the night. Inexplicable fan art was also handed over to Welch between songs.
"It's two girls with fringes making out," she said, examining the painting. "That's always good."
The singer seemed to have a real rapport with the audience, especially the ladies in attendance. She confessed that the show felt like something of a homecoming despite her English upbringing.
"My mother is American, and her family was originally from Texas," said Welch to furious approval from the crowd. "We had a house in Galveston. I haven't been since I was very small, but the air here smells like my childhood."
If she hadn't been beloved in Houston before, folks, that about did it. The audience sang loud and pogoed in time to the music as the Machine roared through "Dog Days Are Over," even some of those perched in the balcony. Flitting from one side of the stage to the other, Welch's engaging presence shifted from girlish to maternal and back again. While the spotlight was on, she was everywoman -- with the voice of Wonder Woman. The crowd's eyes and ears never left her.
The band's encore set of "Cosmic Love" and "No Light, No Light" raised the screaming and clapping to a fever pitch, and then it was over. Girls in strappy sandals lined up for one last round of shots and a final group photo (or seven) and filed out into downtown, still buzzing from the show. No doubt their Facebook evangelism will have friends fuming that they missed out on the fun.
If I had to bet, they'll get another shot at it someday soon. But the next time Welch and her troupe pass through town, they're going to need a bigger stage.
Personal Bias: I arrived at the show curious. I left converted.
The Crowd: Gaggles of girlfriends and gayfriends, accompanied by the men who love them.
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Overheard in the Crowd: "It's like church. It's got that same kind of spirit."
Random Notebook Dump: Welch simultaneously charmed and creeped out the audience with a story about being sidetracked from her quest to visit the Rothko Chapel when she spotted a dead alligator in Buffalo Bayou. "We don't see dead animals like that in England!" she gushed. "I thought it was a dead dinosaur!" Chances are, that gator was more alive than you dare realize, Flo.