To say that Florence Welch, the charismatic frontwoman of Florence+The Machine, had Wednesday night’s audience at the Bayou Music Center eating out of her hands would be a gross understatement. Since the London band’s 2009 debut, Lungs, was released to critical acclaim, buzz about Welch and her band has grown steadily across America. Coming off of the release of their sophomore effort, the 2011 album Ceremonials, it was the group's first visit to Houston, and both the band and the audience rose to the occasion.
The show started off calmly enough, with a majestic version of Ceremonials’ “Only If For A Night” kicking things off. Then it took about two songs for Welch to start engaging the crowd as if she had already made a career out of playing in Houston. In fact, Welch is a bit familiar with the Bayou City, despite never having played here before. From the stage, she mentioned that her maternal family has roots in Galveston, and she expressed regret at not visiting the Rothko Chapel before the show.
That would only prove to be the beginning of Welch’s 90-minute-long attempt to win the hearts of Houstonians, though judging by the hype surrounding this show, all she had to do was show up.
Before leading into a wild version of “Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up)” from Lungs, Welch expressed a wish to “get to know Houston a little better” by asking for volunteers to be “sacrificed to the music." Eager fans quickly took this offer to heart, and from my spot in front of center stage on the floor, I was suddenly surrounded by female fans being hoisted up along with the instructional chorus of the song.
Throughout the night, Welch encouraged as much interaction as the energetic fans could muster. During 2009’s seminal classic “Dog Days Are Over,” Welch had the entire room waving their hands in the air and jumping up and down until the ground started shaking. Another fan favorite, “Shake it Off,” was met with the one of the loudest fan sing-alongs I’ve heard this side of a cover of “Sweet Caroline.”
The only thing that was missing from the rabid fan behavior on the floor was a ceremonial throwing of bras onstage and other such typical rock and roll behavior, a deficit that was remedied shortly before the band’s performance of “Heartlines” from Ceremonials. This inevitable bra-tossing incident prompted one of Welsh’s many giggling fits of the night, quipping that she felt like she was in a boy band. The moment was a quintessential example of what makes Welsh so charming; she was somehow able to handle the situation without sounding the least bit snarky.
Though her band deserves just as much credit as her strong voice — the stage set up included a traditional guitar/bass/drum section, along with backup singers, a piano, synthesizers, and a harpist — I caught many audience members (myself included) snapping multiple photos of Welch as she twirled, skipped, and swayed across stage in an enormous black, copper, and gold tinged robe.
This outfit, along with stage props that seamlessly blended gothic and art deco style, proved to be an accurate companion to the sound of the music. Just like the robe, at no point was the music sound too gloomy nor too bombastic; a rare feat for a band equipped with both a harpist and ambient electronics.
As it stood, the unit worked tirelessly to provide the wash of sound that complemented Welch’s soulful, keening vocals, and was most noticeable during such songs as “Leave My Body” and “Spectrum." both off of her most recent album, Ceremonials. It was the hard-hitting drums and the celestial sounds of the harp strings that accompanied Welch’s voice that made Wednesday’s show such a visceral experience.
As I slowly walked the length of Bayou Place towards my car, I saw hordes of awestruck audience members still transfixed from the last few moments of the show-stopping closer, “No Light, No Light," all hoping that Welch will make good on her promise to be back very soon.