Florence + the Machine at the Academy, Manchester, 25th September 2009

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Last night I saw Florence + the Machine play a sell-out show at the Academy and was not disappointed. With her ample vocal talent, Florence Welch has single-handedly made the name “Florence” cool to a new generation. Perhaps because the gig was timed to coincide with the end of Freshers Week, the Manchester crowd absolutely loved her. She has a tender, soaring voice reminiscent of Souixie Souix meeting Kate Bush on some pagan ritual site, with dashes of Chrissy Hynde and Dido thrown in for good measure. As you might gather, I’m a fan; I like the way she has arrived on the UK music scene with a strong voice and an aesthetic identity that combines 1970s vintage with slight undertones of the gothic macabre. Some of Florence’s more tormented lyrics remind one of the sort of things Gordon Downie of the Tragically hip used to write. Lines like “There’s a ghost in my mouth in it talks in my sleep” and “A kiss from a fist is better than none.”

This time she was dressed in a black, wizard sleeve creation which looked like something out of a Hammer horror film – the garb of a high preistess – and she made it work, raising her arms and trailing them like a charred butterfly, even twirling on stage. She seemed to sing as if a trance, and when she stepped out of it for a moment, a different person could be glimpsed; a shy and jaunty young woman dressing up to explore the meanings of this new identity, gleefully stepping into a theatre of ritual just for the sake of art. Her band even have a classical harpist to give their sound an ethereal dimension.

It’s great to see someone like that at the peak of their powers and appreciated for it by a live audience. Perhaps educated by Spotify, the crowd seemed to know all her songs and was behind her all the way. In some senses, Florence is of course conforming to traditional standards of feminity, but she is doing it with an aesthetic that runs so counter to the whole direction of contemporary plastic pop that you can’t help supporting her for it… Maybe her sound marks a return to the kind of dreamy songwriting of the 1980s? If the major labels continue to find and promote artists like this, they may have more longevity than we might think.