Concert Review: Florence + the Machine @ Royal Albert Hall, London, England (Teenage Cancer Trust Show)
Every year, the Teenage Cancer Trust hosts a series of benefit shows. In case you don’t know about Teenage Cancer Trust, they are an organization that funds and builds specialized cancer wards for young people in NHS hospitals in the UK. There have been benefit concerts held annually since 2002, with the first kicking off in 2000. This year’s benefit concerts had Paul McCartney, Roger Daltrey, Paul Weller, Kelly Jones, and others all play so far. The final night belonged to Florence Welch and her band, Florence + the Machine. Yup, she can sort of say that Paul McCartney opened for her.
Florence + the Machine were back in Florence’s home town of London at the beginning of March, playing 3 sold out shows at the Alexandra Palace. That did not stop them from selling out the legendary Royal Albert Hall, with demand still high from the recent release of Ceremonials (which debuted at Number 1 back in October 2011). In less than a week, Florence + the Machine will also release their MTV Unplugged album. It’s Florence’s world and we’re just living in it.
As we waited for Florence + the Machine come on, we were “treated” to XFM playing their radio hits, including a Florence + the Machine song. Why the eff would they play a Florence song right before she’s about to go on?!
Roger Daltry from the Who came out and chatted about the Teenage Cancer Trust, and then introduced Florence + the Machine, who were accompanied by a full orchestra and backing choir, totalling more than 30 people (my counting skills are poor, especially when everyone looks like ants from the cheap seats).
Kicking off her first song at 9:00pm, Florence led off with You’ve Got the Love. With a backing orchestra and choir, and with subdued percussion (represented by a timpani), the song took on a very different feel. Led by Florence’s always-present booming vocals, the song was more dark and yet more beautiful. Case in point: 1 girl in front of me was crying when the song finished, while her 2 friends fought back tears.
The next song was Only If for a Night, and once again, the orchestral backing made the song feel more important, and more epic. Again, the percussion was barely noticeable, with the timpani being quite subtle.
Drumming Song was next, which didn’t fully live up to its name, although the strings once again made up for the quiet percussion. Check out the video at the bottom of the post, and ignore our short lived attempt at being artistic and filming Royal Albert Hall – lots and lots of beers make you become artistic, apparently. After the song, Florence noted that she’s never been so nervous in her life, and keeps looking around at the beauty of Royal Albert Hall, which is almost making her forget the words.
Next up was Heartlines, which had a slower, less driving chorus. Florence took the time after the song to wave to every section of the crowd, even those up in the upper arches.
Between Two Lungs followed, with Florence demonstrating amazing vocals at the end, with the harpist (not a word I use enough) playing a great harp outro. Florence noted that when she set out, she never thought she would be playing at Royal Albert Hall. She also never thought I’d say, “Hey Dad, this is Roger Daltry”.
or “I can’t believe I’m featured on PeteHatesMusic!
The band played Breaking Down, followed by possibly my favourite Florence + the Machine song, Cosmic Love. However, all the elements I love from the song were missing live. The big booming chorus with the driving percussion were absent, as were Florence’s loud vocals, as she opted for a softer chorus.
Florence dedicated the next song, All This and Heaven Too, to her family in the crowd. She noted afterwards that she wants to talk to the crowd between songs, but she is still so nervous. Amazing that someone of her talent and experience can still get nervous. I feel the same way whenever I order a Big Mac at McDonalds. “What if they’ve run out? What if they ask me to Super Size it?!”
The orchestra backed off for No Light, No Light, with only the harp, the piano, and Florence leading the first half of the song. The harp was great throughout the song, especially before the first chorus. The same artist decision for a lot of songs was present in this song – subdued vocals and a less in-your-face chorus, replaced with the beauty and elegance of strings. It worked for most songs, but some songs, like Cosmic Love and this song, I would rather have been blown away.
Never Let Me Go, with its calmer chorus, followed. Florence told the crowd that the last time she played at Royal Albert Hall, she was in her goth phase, with a feather cape and black lip stick. She wondered if she should bring it back, which received some cheers.
The upper circle of Royal Albert Hall got out of their seats and danced to a song Florence said she played last time she was at Royal Albert Hall – Dog Days Are Over. Florence ended the night with Shake It Out, playing in total for 70 minutes, without an encore, despite the crowd’s best attempts to bring her back out. Initially, with the orchestra sitting there, people were expecting Florence to walk back out, but once they packed it in, so did the crowd.
Overall, the show was pretty amazing. The first few songs were incredible, with the orchestra bringing an interesting dynamic to Florence’s live show, complementing that voice of hers so well. Florence also sounded pitch perfect, which was better than some live performances I’ve seen on YouTube, so I was pleasantly surprised by that. As noted above, I would’ve loved to hear a few of the up tempo and huge choruses remain that way, but given the instrumentation, it wasn’t entirely possible. A great show for a great cause.
PHM Rating for Florence + the Machine: 9.0 out of 10
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Setlist for Florence + the Machine @ Royal Albert Hall, London, England – April 3, 2012
1 – You’ve Got The Love
2 – Only If For a Night
3 – Drumming Song
4 – Heartlines
5 – Between Two Lungs
6 – Breaking Down
7 – Cosmic Love
8 – All This and Heaven Too
9 – No Light, No Light
10 – Never Let Me Go
11 – Dog Days Are Over
12 – Shake It Out
Florence + the Machine – Drumming Song (Live from Royal Albert Hall, April 3, 2012)