Florence + the Machine Offered Vancouver an Otherwordly Escape

Rogers Arena, October 4

With Japanese Breakfast

BY Noah CiubotaruPublished Oct 5, 2022

Florence Welch ran off stage to make physical contact with the crowd three times during her headlining performance at Vancouver's Rogers Arena on Tuesday night. Welch has always appeared as an otherworldly figure, both on record and on stage — when she darts into the crowd, it's as if she disappears and suddenly materializes elsewhere in the venue. She floats barefoot to her fans, stands on the barricades, and grabs as many hands as she can, absorbing enough energy to shoot her back to the stage with a renewed sense of power. 

The magic of Welch's crowd work is its symbiotic energy; the first time she approached the floor's front row on Tuesday was for "Dream Girl Evil" — a track off this year's Dance Fever, the occasion and title for her current tour — descending to commune with a legion of followers decked in floral crowns before zeroing in on one of them, looming above as she caressed their face. It was an incredibly intimate moment, magnified on the projected screens, and when Welch pulled away her hands, the fan immediately burst into tears and buried their face in their palms. 

There were several instances throughout the two-hour set when Welch's hands seemed to take on a mystical quality. The stage camera — which focused on Florence and not so much the members of the Machine, who remained shrouded in darkness for most of the show — would often linger on her elegant wrist flicks and unfurling hands as she dramatically reached out to the audience, calling them toward her. Every movement seemed to be tied to the incantations of her lyrics; when she started the show with "Heaven Is Here," a stirring interlude from Dance Fever, she appeared at the back of the stage behind a constellation of 12 chandeliers. As she glided through them, she raised her arms and the chandeliers ascended to the ceiling, where they hung in different arrangements throughout her set. The only other props were the risers of candelabras (fashioned out of the same dripping, white material as the chandeliers) that were positioned behind Welch like a chorus of ghosts. It all added a regal sense of grandeur that perfectly suited her towering vocals and gothic aesthetic. 

After shadowboxing through "Heaven Is Here," grunting and madly swinging her fists with every thump of the drum, Welch slid into "King" and "Free," which opened the show on a somewhat slow and subdued note before launching into her 2015 hit "Ship to Wreck." The crowd that was previously motionless under her spell started swaying and heaving like excited ocean waves. That ubiquitous dancing was then halted for a triplet of more austere Dance Fever cuts — "Daffodil," "Girls Against God" and "Dream Girl Evil" — more moving in an emotional sense than a physical one. However, whoever might've sat down during that run jumped back to their feet when they heard the hopeful opening harp plinks of "Dog Days Are Over." 

For all the seriousness and majesty of Welch's musical persona, there was plenty of levity throughout the evening to balance things out; opener Japanese Breakfast contributed a great deal to that objective. The indie-rock-slash-alt-pop band led by Michelle Zauner released their third LP, Jubilee, in June of 2021, and, as its title suggests, it takes the pursuit of joy as its central ethos. After years of touring her first two records that largely focused on the grief of losing her mother to pancreatic cancer in 2014 — an experience recounted in her exquisite bestselling memoir, Crying in H Mart — Zauner wanted to pivot to lighter music and a lighter live show. 

Here, she began her set with the triumphant "Paprika," during which she skipped across stage, winding up big before smashing a gong and intoning, "Oh, it's a rush!" The '80s-inspired synth-pop of "Be Sweet" followed, and then the gentle ballad "Kokomo, IN," which felt like a dream sequence: the spotlight glimmering off Zauner's guitar, the camera focusing in close on her as she stood smiling in an abundance of yellow ruffles. The most somber moment of the set was "Posing in Bondage," for which most of the lights were turned down. Once it reached its glorious conclusion, however, more of the venue's seats had filled out and the cheering got louder. I noticed phone screens illuminating around me as people Googled Japanese Breakfast, witnessing in real time this indie band reap the benefits of their first arena show. 

Welch injected that sense of lightness into the concert by speaking to the crowd whenever she wished to orchestrate a dance break (some of the best ones taking place during "Kiss With a Fist" and encore closer "Rabbit Heart [Raise It Up]"). She poked fun at her own witchy brand, imagining how unwitting plus-ones might've thought they were participating in a cult gathering. She encouraged total release by reminding everyone that "it's so much easier if you really give into it." And, of course, she remarked how special it is that we can experience live music together again, after an extended period of us doubting whether that day would ever come.

The weight of the pandemic felt most prominent when she performed "June" off 2018's High as Hope. Before starting, she mentioned how the song had taken on new meanings over the past few years. It became clear what she meant when she sang lines like, "The world slows till there's nothing left." The chorus consisted of her repeatedly pleading, "Hold on to each other."

It's a dirge, but when you're in an arena full of people, with Welch's voice rumbling in your chest, it feels divine — which is also to say, profoundly human.

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