Live review: Florence + the Machine at the Wiltern
Florence Welch shows off her ‘Lungs' and fashion sense with enjoyable flamboyance.
Florence Welch knows her assets. The flamenco-goth English singer and namesake of the act Florence + the Machine titled her 2009 debut album “Lungs” because she's blessed with a powerful pulmonary pair. She inhaled the ecstatic atmosphere of the first of three sold-out shows Saturday night at the Wiltern, then exhaled up to the art-deco bas-relief ceiling.
Wailing songs about coffins and kisses, Welch strode and twirled the stage like a mermaid who's just been blessed with Tina Turner's legs, or a No. 1 English pop star grasping the reins of her runaway stateside success. It wasn't the revelation of an epoch-making genius, but it was certainly an aerobic celebration of an exciting, exuberant talent.
With its whooping declaration of the end of bad times, Florence + the Machine's hit “Dog Days Are Over” has made her the darling of artsy teenagers, gay lovers, chick-literati and anyone who appreciates a good siren call. Its breakthrough has been helped in no small part by the song's star-making spot on the MTV Video Music Awards, inclusion in the trailer for “Eat, Pray, Love,” and heavy rotation in a dada drag video, in which the strikingly beautiful Welch is made up to look like the ugly sister of Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter. That imagistic allusion is probably purposeful, given that Florence's song “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)” also references “Alice in Wonderland.” Welch celebrates the little girl who has to learn to be “lion-hearted.” Fantasy fans adore her.
Welch saved “Dog Days” for the end of her 90-minute set. She opened with “Drumming Song,” a “Lungs” track in which she exorcises the “almighty sound” inside her head, with the help of some heavy percussion and a growing chorus of voices. Saturday she was accompanied by five musicians, including harpist Tom Monger (whom you could scarcely hear) and keyboardist Isabella Summers, the original Machine.
But they were more like an orchestral pit than a backing band, providing dramatic settings for Welch's scenery-chewing performance. They played all 13 songs from Lungs plus one new one. “Strangeness and Charm” has a promisingly more dynamic pace than her sometimes overwrought compositions, which Welch generally writes with various band mates.
The Machine's sound is glossy goth rock, a la the Cult and Cure. Welch belts, trills, sings in a soft falsetto, wails a Muslim call to prayer and sometimes emits a howl. She's a pedigreed Londoner but has a bit of a Welsh or Irish burr in her voice, a la the Cranberries' Dolores O'Riordan. She has clear pitch and formidable power but not yet the idiosyncratic expressive instrument of a Björk or Katell Keineg.
Subtlety is not Florence's forte. She likes the flamboyant, seductive rhythms and gestures of flamenco. Saturday she strode the stage in a form-fitting, white, crocheted flamenco dress with a red zipper up the front. Twisting and raising her arms over her head, she even stuck a flower in Summers' teeth. For a song about a ghost, she draped herself in a white shawl. A strategically placed fan blew her gauze skirt, making it look all the more like a mermaid's vanishing tail.
With her tall, statuesque figure and Victorian style, Welch is well on her way to being a fashion icon. She taps into the rich history of voluptuous, fiery pop redheads, from Ann-Margret to Tori Amos to Disney's Ariel. She has the lion's mane, heart and roar.
-- Evelyn McDonnell
Photos: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times