Florence and the Machine & Haim – AECC, Aberdeen – 09/12/12
There are certain performers, albeit very few, that have an undeniable talent for making their audience members appreciate the effects that live music can have on your life. Through a mixture of meaningful lyrics, catchy music and a lively stage presence, these bands and artists make a mark on their fans’ lives, and gain a reputation as one of the best live acts around whilst they do so. Thanks to a grueling touring schedule and an unrivaled passion for music, Florence and the Machine have become known as one of the best live acts in music, selling out venue after venue as people flock to see the band doing what they do best.
Support was offered by Californian folk R&B band Haim, sporting a sound that at times resembled a Tegan and Sara/Kimbra cross-breed. The band consists of sisters Este, Danielle and Alana Haim, along with amazing drummer Dash Hutton. In many ways, they were the perfect choice to support Florence and the Machine, as both bands share a love for tribal drum patterns and helping prove to the world just how talented female musicians can be.
Their set was nine songs long, starting off with the iconic ‘Better Off’. The crowd seemed to be enjoying themselves from the word go, which is a welcomed change to the reserved reception that most support acts are greeted with when they perform in Aberdeen. Haim’s first single ‘Don’t Save Me’ was received well too, with Este’s impressive bass line getting the prominence that it deserved. Danielle’s vocals were basically flawless, and, unlike many other modern day singers, you could perfectly understand every word that she sang.
The highlight of Haim’s set had to be their fantastic cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Oh Well’. The band provided the audience with an electrifying rendition of the original song, roughing up the blues rock anthem for impressive results. The sisters then tried to wow the audience by telling them that they had just tried haggis for the first time ever, before asking them what else they should try whilst they are in Scotland. The general consensus was, obviously, IRN BRU. After a couple of mispronunciations and a great difficulty understanding accents, they agreed to try some IRN BRU once they went off-stage.
Florence and the Machine took to the stage soon after Haim. They started off with ‘Only If For A Night’, the opening track to sophomore album ‘Ceremonials’, providing a stunning introduction to their set. Front-woman Florence Welch appeared as a tiny, solitary figure at the back of a huge stage, dressed in a gorgeous gothic gown. The audience had went crazy before she had even opened her mouth to sing, which was just as well, because as soon as she did, everyone seemed to be momentarily dumbfounded. No matter how much Florence and the Machine you watch online, or listen to on your iPod, nothing will ever prepare you for the first time you get to hear that wonderful voice live.
It quickly became clear that Florence lives and breathes music. Her eccentric stage presence matched the rhythm of the music perfectly made Florence look as though she was the physical representation of the band’s music. The way that her body would fling backwards like a discarded rag doll at the sound of Christopher Hayden’s thunderous drum beats, or how her arms would move in fluid movements to the graceful melody of Tom Monger’s harp made it near enough impossible to take your eyes off of her. The rest of the band seemed quite happy to stand back and let Florence take the brunt of the audience’s attention, even going as far as taking a few moments to quietly admire this wonderful performer themselves. Monger, for instance, leant on his harp to appreciate Welch’s vocals during one of the band’s latter songs, suggesting that, even though they have been performing together for years, it’s still incredibly easy to become caught up in the power of that woman’s voice.
Although many focus solely on Florence’s vocals, I think that ‘the Machine’ deserve just as much praise as their front-woman. The way that the band work together to evoke different feelings in the crowd is nothing short of breath-taking. Mark Saunders’ bass line in conjunction with Christopher Hayden‘s drumming during ‘What the Water Gave Me’ provides the song with its infectious heartbeat. The way in which every instrument bar Saunders’ bass and Florence’s vocals is stripped back half-way through the song, with each instrument being added on once again, one by one, is a stroke of genius, providing a stunning crescendo to the song.
My personal favourite Florence and the Machine song, ‘Cosmic Love’, was fourth on the set-list. The emotional depth in which it was performed gave me goosebumps as well as an entirely new respect for the song. You could see the meaning that each word meant to the front-woman, who stood on the edge of the stage, somehow looking both emotionally vulnerable and admirably strong at the same time.
After the last few notes of ‘Cosmic Love’ had died out, the band began to play the instantly recognisable ‘Bird Song intro’, which gave Florence her first real chance to bond with the audience. How did she approach this situation? The only way in which she knew how… by asking the crowd for human sacrifices. She then told everyone who came to the gig with loved ones to raise them up above the audience, providing a literal introduction to the next song of the night, the ever popular ‘Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)’. The way that Florence controlled the crowd during this song was reminiscent of the way that a conductor leads an orchestra. A single wave of her hand caused the place to erupt in a series of synchronised cheers, or a burst of rhythmical clapping. When she asked for people to jump during ‘Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up’), waves of energy began to wash over the audience, starting at the front and slowly working its way back, until even the people at the back of the venue were bouncing up and down in time to the music. The sell out audience were all too happy to obey to Florence‘s commands, and the woman herself couldn’t help but grin when she saw the way that everyone was reacting to her music.
Her grin only got wider as the first line of lyrics to ‘You’ve Got the Love’ were screamed back to her by a packed AECC. The band’s cover of The Source ft. Candi Staton song might be a few years old now, but for many people, it marked the first time that they had ever heard of Florence and the Machine, and asking them to hide their excitement upon hearing it performed live proved to be an impossible task.
A number of gifts were thrown upon stage for Florence to collect, much to her amusement. “Someone threw a fucking tiara on stage!” she grins, as she places the crown on top of her head. Queen Florence. The performs a couple of songs with it on, before passing it onto good friend, co-writer and pianist Isabella Summers, who seemed all too happy to wear it for the remainder of the show.
The stripped back performance of ‘Leave My Body’ gave the crowd a chilling break from the rest of the relatively upbeat set, before moving on to crowd-favourite ‘Shake It Out’. “Regrets collect like old friends” echoed violently, hitting each of the venue’s walls with such brute force that it felt as though nothing could contain the power that is Welch’s voice, although it soon became apparent that something could stop it. The front-woman immediately put a stop to the song upon seeing two people fighting in the crowd. Florence told them off for fighting. One of the girls standing beside these two was visibly upset. Upon noticing this, the kind-hearted Florence asked her if she was okay, before jumping down from the stage to go and give her a cuddle. When she clambered back onto the stage, the audience began chanting her name as a display of their love and respect. She laughed and turned towards her band, bashfully confused as to how to respond to this situation. The way in which she smiled at her legion of supporters created a genuinely heart-warming moment.
After disappearing from the stage after a stunning performance of ‘No Light, No Light’, the band returned for a three song encore, the energy during which was palpable. They started off with a stripped down ‘Sweet Nothing’, a haunting version that escalated into one of the most heart-wrenching performances of the night. Florence performed the song’s bridge with a heartbreaking level of emotion, her facial expression indicating that the lyrics aren’t just words on a page to her, but something much more real, and much more painful. The final two songs, ‘Spectrum (Say My Name)’ and ‘Dog Days Are Over’ were upbeat, and the audience had allowed themselves to become completely lost in the music. ‘Dog Days Are Over’ provided a perfect ending to the night, the entire arena breaking into dance whilst clapping along to the drum beat that provided an infectious rhythm to the hit. Florence ran to the back of the stage during one of the musical interludes of the song, looking out at the crowd with a content smile on her face. She toyed with them by singing random vowels, which they mimicked back at her with raw enthusiasm. “ABERDEEN! Thank you so much.” she squealed, before asking one last thing from the audience: to jump, for as long and as high as they can, as soon as the chorus kicked in once again. They built up the tension by prolonging the musical interlude, which resulted in a huge surge of energy that felt absolutely amazing to be a part of.
After Sunday night’s gig, I finally understood why people had been referring to them as one of the best live acts that you could go and see. Their boundless energy, undeniable musical talent and caring audience interactions joined together put them head and shoulders above most other bands and artists these days. It’s clear that Florence and the Machine tour extensively for the sheer joy of performing their music live, and I’m sure that they will continue to sell out arenas and make fans proud for as long as they continue making music.
Words by Penguin Gone Mad, pics by Still Burning.
Florence and the Machine Website