A friend described Monday night’s Florence and the Machine concert as church for women, a succinct distillation that’s hard to top.
For about 85 minutes, Florence Welch and her eight-piece band held in their thrall a near-capacity crowd at Starlight Theater, much of which was female and most of whom appeared to be in various stages of spiritual replenishment.
She and her band, including two backup singers, performed before a five-screen video display that looked like enormous pieces of stained glass. Those screens broadcast various images, often live close-ups of Welch wailing into her microphone.
There were moments of calm and quiet, like during “Cosmic Love.” But little about this show was subtle or restrained. Welch is a high-voltage performer with boundless energy who likes to use the entire stage as her dance floor. She skipped, spun, twirled and hopped about her pulpit all night, her gown flowing about her — moves that recall a young Stevie Nicks.
A few times, she persuaded her audience into acts and antics: climbing aboard someone’s shoulders; greeting, with handshakes, hugs or kisses, fellow fans in nearby seats (as they do in many church services); and into hopping pogo-like during “Dog Days Are Over.”
The set list comprised four songs off “Lungs,” released in 2009, which has gone gold in the U.S.; the nine others were from “Ceremonials,” which turns a year old this month but has already gone platinum in the U.S. Neither has produced a top 20 single. Nonetheless, her fans were familiar with whatever she served them.
The show opened with “Only if for a Night,” a song about communicating with a spirit: “But she came over me like some holy rite / And although I was burning, you’re the only light.” After that: “Drumming Song,” a love anthem with more religious imagery, starting with that drumming sound, which is “sweeter than heaven and hotter than hell.” Then: “I ran to a tower where the church bells chime / I hoped that they would clear my mind.”
The music is a mix of soul and rock, some of it progressive-folk/rock in the vein of Renaissance. Songs are typically 4 to 5 minutes — or longer, when performed live. It took only 13 songs to fill 85 minutes.
Of those, “Spectrum (Say my Name)” and “Shake it Out” prompted extra-loud outbursts. But the closer, “Dog Days are Over,” ignited the most joyous response. Its manic, blissful arrangement betrays its cryptic, foreboding lyrics. But given the crowd’s vocal response and willingness to bounce like children, it’s safe to assume that like most of this show, this moment tapped into something spiritual. Or baptismal.
Setlist: Only if for a Night; Drumming Song; Cosmic Love; All This and Heaven, Too; Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up); Spectrum (Say my Name); Breaking Down; Heartlines; Leave my Body; Shake it Out; No Light No Light. Encore: What the Water Gave Me; Dog Days are Over.| Timothy Finn, The Star