Florence + The Machine @ Glastonbury 2015 – Review

FLORENCE + THE MACHINE @ GLASTONBURY 2015

Shaking It Up

Florence Welch put her heart and soul into her debut Glastonbury headline set, but it wasn’t quite enough to hide a lack of material. She did raise it up, and just – but only just – fell short.

***½

You certainly can’t fault Florence Welch for her passion. From the moment she stepped onto the Pyramid Stage last Friday night, looking supremely unfazed in a sparkling silver jacket and trousers, she put everyone else to shame with her turbo-charged levels of energy.

She opened with one of her best songs, ‘What The Water Gave Me’, giving the crowd a good taste of her somewhat ethereal style. But although it started things off nicely, it was hardly the adrenaline rush that most opening headline songs at Glastonbury are, and that may have ended up unwittingly setting the tone for the rest of her set. It was all undoubtedly passionate and well-intentioned, but just not quite headliner-ish enough compared to the past few years.

‘Ship to Wreck’ came next and was rapturously received by the crowd, with its suitably spine-tingling yet foot-tapping intro sending cheers through the amassed throng of people by the Pyramid Stage. Her powerful voice ringing out, Welch continued to fling herself around all corners of the stage as though possessed. ‘Shake It Out’, which followed, was suitably rousing, after which she introduced her band and greeted the watching thousands. ‘Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)’, a fan favourite, was next up, and here the singer really went for it, running offstage and literally having the security people raise her up to sing with the crowd, who then crowned her with a circle of flowers. There was a moment of spontaneous brilliance when Welch then took it off and crowned a startled festival-goer, coinciding with the line ‘This is a gift’.

Strangely enough, though, most of the great moments of the set came during Florence’s new songs. ‘Delilah’ was a refreshing burst of falsetto energy suffused with piano and the thrum of electric guitar, and had an indescribable kind of power about it – every person on stage appeared to give it everything. ‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful’, the title song from the new album, benefited from its extremely stirring brass section at the end. Its culmination seemed to me the one moment during the set when everyone in the field, wordless, looked on in wonder as though the music was lifting them higher, to someplace else. In comparison, older material like ‘Drumming Song’ and ‘Spectrum’, though still good, seemed a bit of a comedown.

However, in a nice touch, the band also paid tribute to Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl, whose broken leg stopped his band from performing at the festival, and went on to play a slowed-down, brassed-up version of the Foos’ ‘Times Like These’, which was very well-received by the crowd. The delicate strumming as opposed to the heavier rock sound of the original headliner contributed well to one of the strongest moments of the set, as all the backing singers and Florence built to a brass-filled, rhythmic and harmonious conclusion.

Perhaps something new, something borrowed, something blue as far as the approach was concerned was what Glastonbury needed, but as a whole the set still didn’t completely wow me. The main problem, for me, lay in the fact that Florence simply didn’t have enough material. 15 songs for a headline act at Glastonbury, with the overall set barely stretching to 90 minutes, is not that many. Welch didn’t really touch her fantastic second album Ceremonials, which was a great shame. She performed all of her big hits, like ‘Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)’ and ‘You’ve Got The Love’, but the likes of ‘No Light, No Light’, ‘Never Let Me Go’ and ‘Seven Devils’, which are equally as stirring and powerful, didn’t get a look-in. And aside from Welch’s signature tunes, there was nothing that truly got the crowd going in proper festival style. This is not a bad thing once in a while, but it felt slightly un-first night at Glastonbury.

However, one of the strengths of her performance was the very welcome feeling of togetherness and community it created, which was present throughout. Peace and love really was the order of the night. Welch and her band rounded things off brilliantly with an energetic rendition of ‘Dog Days Are Over’, encouraging people to wave their shirts around their heads and really cut loose – which she then duly did as well. So in spite of everything, I’m not saying that Florence was unfit to be a headliner. She stepped into the breach admirably and made a good fist of it, but ultimately fell victim to a shortage of songs. Perhaps in a couple of years she’d prove a better fit – what she performed was good, and had a very nice atmosphere to it, but the machine just needed a few more revs.

Full Setlist

  1. What the Water Gave Me 
  2. Ship to Wreck 
  3. Shake It Out  (followed by band introductions)
  4. Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up) 
  5. Cosmic Love 
  6. Delilah 
  7. Sweet Nothing 
  8. Times Like These 
  9. How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful 
  10. Queen of Peace 
  11. What Kind of Man 
  12. Drumming Song 
  13. Spectrum 
  14. You’ve Got the Love 
  15. Dog Days Are Over 

Alex Nicholson

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