Saturday, October 06, 2012

Florence + the Machine producing magic as Hollywood Bowl debut approaches

My review was originally posted on The Orange County Register's Soundcheck blog on Friday, Oct. 5, 2012. My review and the photo scanned from the cover of the Show section below ran in the print edition today, Saturday, Oct. 6.

Florence + the Machine’s dazzling performance Thursday night (Oct. 4, 2012) at Cricket Wireless Amphitheatre in Chula Vista provided plenty of evidence that originality still matters.

Singer Florence Welch and her band of Brits served up 90 magnetizing minutes, playing a set weighted in favor of their second album, last year’s Ceremonials. From the incidental music that led into the soulful “Only If for a Night” and everything that followed, the ensemble truly captivated the crowd with its mix of indie chime, symphonic pop, soulful vocals and progressive rock in ways that worked their magic on a cool autumn night just as compellingly as they did at Coachella in April. (They make their Hollywood Bowl debut Sunday night, with an encore performance slated for Monday.)

Welch, in a beautiful long dress that suggested a distant time in her native England, performed on a mostly sparse stage bathed in sumptuous lights and enhanced via a rear-projection screen that always seemed to evoke just the right spirit for the songstress. Like a gifted actress, she could draw the rapt crowd in while positioned tightly against her microphone on “Cosmic Love” or dash around the stage gleefully, as she did amid a garden scene in the powerful “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up).”

A gifted and intense singer, Welch, 26, was still quick to smile and radiate the warmth that has built her a zealous following since arriving internationally a mere three years ago. “So much love … we love you,” she said before launching the ’80s-tinged synth-rocker “Breaking Down.”

After that song, as artful as it was straightforward, she discussed spending a few days in the city before this Southern California run, including a trip to the beach, catching a punk band at the Casbah and a visit earlier Thursday to one of the region’s most famous spots: “You guys have a brilliant zoo,” she said to cheers.

She then led the Machine through “Heartlines,” an otherworldly piece further spotlighting her soaring soprano with a richly melodic chorus.

The group ended its regular dozen-song set with “No Light, No Light,” once again immersing the audience in a fusion of light, music and theater. As the song grew in volume and power, Welch’s approach as bandleader grew more zealous, until heavy bass and robust backing singers helped bring the piece to an epic finish. Her encore included a dramatic reading of “Breath of Life,” a heroic song from the film Snow White & the Huntsman.

It doesn’t matter that the Weeknd, the moniker for Canadian singer Abel Tesfaye, got the prime opening spot. Further, it didn’t matter that he was provided a full 45 minutes to perform. His set was decidedly flat, and his overall approach as well as individual songs didn’t distinguish themselves in a way that excited the crowd.

On the other hand, the Maccabees kicked off the open-air evening with an exciting blend of alternative and experimental rock. Over the course of 30 fast-paced minutes, the South London outfit showcased a sound clearly influenced by Radiohead, Travis, the Cure and others in a rewarding romp that definitely drew notice with those who arrived for the 7 p.m. start time.

The highlight of the group’s very strong set was “No Kind Words,” drawing on inherent strengths with blasts of guitar (especially well-constructed leads), a propulsive rhythm section and loads of dynamics. Their songs are potent, but it’s the vibrant band’s style that left everybody wanting more. Those headed to the Bowl had best get there early to catch ’em.

Setlist: Florence + the Machine at Cricket Wireless Amphitheatre, Chula Vista, Oct. 4, 2012

Main set: Only If for a Night / What the Water Gave Me / Drumming Song / Cosmic Love / All This and Heaven Too / Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up) / Spectrum / Breaking Down / Heartlines (acoustic) / Leave My Body (acoustic with piano) / Shake It Out / No Light, No Light

Encore: Breath of Life / Dog Days Are Over

Florence + the Machine plays twice at the Hollywood Bowl, Oct. 7-8, with the Weeknd and the Maccabees opening at 6:30. Tickets are $28.50-$95. The venue is at 2301 N. Highland Ave.

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