Singer Florence Welch paused midway through “Dog Days Are Over,” one of Florence + the Machine‘s earliest hits, to welcome the roughly 17,000 fans who filled the Hollywood Bowl on Friday night for the first of two sold-out shows in Los Angeles this weekend.
She grinned happily as she expressed appreciation for those back for their “second, third or 50th shows” and was in awe of the first-timers who’d braved the roiling dance pit at the front of the stage.
“And if you’ve somehow been dragged along by someone tonight, and you’re wondering what the (expletive) this is?” she added. “Is it early Halloween? Is it a British pagan dance ritual?
“All I can say is it’s really so much easier if you give into it.”
The crowd roared, and with an admonishment it was time to put away the phones and “be here now with the ones that you love.” Welch and the band dropped back into the final bars of the song as fans, impressively phone-free, gave in as she’d requested and danced wildly to its finish.
The Hollywood Bowl has become a kind of second home to Florence + the Machine in the past decade. This weekend marks the fourth time the British indie art-rock band has played back-to-back nights there on tours for the most recent four of five studio albums.
Which makes sense given the feelings evoked by Welch and the band in performance. She’s an ethereal performer who looks a bit like a pre-Raphaelite princess or maybe Glinda the Good Witch’s auburn-haired, rebellious younger sister.
And the songs, while touching often on themes of love and heartbreak, also feel grounded in nature, set in idyllic landscapes or in the case of 2015’s “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful” almost entirely in and around the sea.
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Welch introduced the new album, “Dance Fever,” earlier this year as “a fairy tale in 14 songs” and as the show opened with four new songs in the first five, that feeling came through clearly even as the musical accompaniment shifted from neo-folk to baroque pop to racing rock and roll.
Welch, dressed in a flowing lavender gown with bell-shaped sleeves and glittering adornments, skipped and danced barefoot across a stage that featured a large open platform with the band on either side, a dozen crystalline chandeliers overhead, and a wall of white, mismatched candelabras at the rear.
The set included 23 songs over an hour and 50 minutes, with 12 of them from “Dance Fever,” but even though the record only arrived in May, many of its tracks were greeted like old favorites by the fans.
“King,” which came after the brief introductory opening song “Heaven Is Her,” was its first single, a song Welch wrote about her feeling of being torn between a life in art and a family. As Welch sang its hook — “I am no mother. I am no bride. I am king” — she thrust her hand aloft and dozens of fans in the pit raised actual fake swords in tribute.
The 2015 single “Ship To Wreck” followed, its even greater familiarity and faster tempo pulled fans out of their seats to dance, but with the exception of “Dog Days Are Over” and “What Kind Of Man,” the first half of the show was almost all new material and heard live for the first time by most of the crowd. (The sword-wavers maybe not. They might be the Florence + the Machine equivalent of Deadheads — Flo-heads? Machine-heads?)
Welch has said influences on the new songs ranged from Iggy Pop to Emmylou Harris, though her British art-rock instincts transform those inspirations into something entirely her own.
But “Prayer Factory” did wind down into a cacophonous rock and roll sound as Welch returned from one of several walks out into the crowd or along the low wall that separated the pool circle pit from the garden boxes. And “Morning Elvis” did have a kind of country-folk sound and lyrics that took the singer from Memphis to New Orleans and beyond.
“I wrote it like a prayer,” Welch said of the lovely, gentle “Morning Elvis,” a composition during the pandemic when she feared live music might never return. “And I thought if we could sing it together some day it might mean we’d made it through this.”
“Choreomania,” a song that references a phenomenon of the Middle Ages when people supposedly experienced uncontrollable urges to dance in wild, convulsive manners, saw her race from the stage up the amphitheater to a remote stage above the terrace boxes. (Like, really raced: When she blazed past, auburn tresses flying, to return to the stage it was startling how fast the barefoot singer was moving.)
The final few songs of the main set delivered a pair of much-loved songs from the 2008 debut album “Lungs.” “Kiss With A Fist” rolled on a kind of ’50s rockabilly beat and a garage-rock melody.
“Cosmic Love” was one of the most beautiful songs of the night, the number for which Welch asked the crowd to get their phones back out and light up the night as she sang its lovely melodies and twirled on stage to the finish.
The three-song encore opened with “Never Let Me Go,” a track off 2011’s “Ceremonials,” which Welch said she wasn’t sure she’d ever performed before in the United States before this tour.
“I said I would never play it ever again,” she explained. “It reminded me of a time of being so … well, some of you were there. Of being so young and sad and drunk and under pressure that I wrote a whole album about being under the sea.”
With time, though, especially during pandemic lockdowns, she thought about that song, and why so many fans claimed it as their favorite.
“Anything that I thought was too messy or too broken, you took it in your heart and you kept it safe,” Welch continued. “So I said if shows ever came back again that I would I would sing this song again as a thank you.”
Thank goodness she reconsidered: “Never Let You Go” was drop-dead gorgeous, a chills-inducing ballad delivered with an emotion-packed, powerhouse vocal.
After that, “Shake It Off” and “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)” were almost bonuses, beloved songs from the first two albums, joyful singalongs to dance the night to its finish.
Florence + the Machine
When: Oct. 14
Where: Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles