My favourite thing about Florence Welch is that she doesn’t wear shoes. I’ve seen her live three times now, and she has been barefoot at every show. I have yet to find evidence that suggests otherwise, but I dare you to look.
There’s a sort of ceremony that can be found at a Florence + the Machine concert. Florence performs exclusively in sheer, delicate nightgowns–designed by Gucci, mind you–that cascade off her frame. Sometimes she looks like she’s floating, while other times she flies across the stage in a blur of colour and fire– her red bangs always long but somehow never in the way of her eyes. She dances from her chest, holding her heart to the sky and reaching out to embrace the moon and stars. She leaps off the stage (despite the fact that she broke her foot at Coachella 2015 doing exactly this) and runs through the audience, her poor security guards trying to keep up with her. They might have one of the most impossible jobs in the world, but I would pay to do it.
I started listening to Florence + the Machine when I was 13. I borrowed a beat up copy of Lungs, her debut album, from my local library. I remember listening to it on loop while putting together a 3D model of a plant cell for 8th grade science, and being entranced by “Cosmic Love”. It’s still one of my favourite songs to this day– every time I’ve seen it performed live, I’ve wept. When I went back to the library I grabbed Florence’s second album, Ceremonials, and so began my love.
Fast forward to 2016, a little under a year after the release of How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. The most conceptual album from the group, released in conjunction with a visually-striking short film, HBHBHB tells the story of a stormy breakup and finding oneself in the aftermath. At midnight on my 18th birthday, I listened to the titular track of the album and let the powerful symphony ring in adulthood.
This is the year that I saw Florence live for the first time. I was nearing the end of high school and was probably at the lowest point in my life. I was despondent, existential and in the throws of a grand high school romance (which meant everything and nothing at the same time). My attitude changed after I went to the concert. I will preface this by saying that I attended the show with the object of my aforementioned affection, which made me channel a lot of pent up energy into participating in the concert (try singing “What Kind of Man” when the answer is standing directly beside you– it’s therapeutic to say the least). But, having been to other shows, I know that there’s more to the Florence + the Machine experience than catharsis. Florence exudes pure, cosmic energy in both her quiet moments and her grand leaps and swells. She invites her audience to break down the boundaries of human emotions, asking them to embrace each other, to profess their love to strangers, to take their shirts off and wave them as freedom flags (sorry, Mum) and to jump until the song is over. During “Dog Days Are Over”, arguably her most popular song, Florence preached to the audience to channel all of their energy–all the awful things they’ve been holding onto and the love they want to send far away–and throw it to the sky. Everyone danced with smiles across their faces, elated by the pure joy of freedom.
Watching Florence reminds me what it’s like to be alive in every sense of the term– the despair, the beauty, the passion, all underpinned by hope. I left that first concert feeling more at peace than I had ever been with the universe, and this feeling has been renewed every time I’ve seen her since.
Her most recent album, High As Hope, is honest, effervescent, and strikes a perfect balance between power and vulnerability. After listening to it for the first time I remarked to a friend the sense of clarity I could feel through her words. Later, I read in The New York Times that this is the first album she recorded while sober.
High As Hope is a beautiful tribute to Florence’s life. It offers the listener little trinkets from her past, like her upbringing in South London, her struggle with an eating disorder in her teenage years, and her love of Patti Smith. My favourite track from this album is “The End of Love”, a beautiful ode to Florence’s familial history that paints a picture of letting life rush in and over you, but not letting it sweep you away. The layered harmony in the chorus is indescribably gorgeous, and hearing it live at Florence’s Oct. 16 show in Toronto felt like a gift.
In a quiet moment at this show, Florence assured the audience that “hope is an action.” I think this is something I could have only learned through her music. I will always be grateful to her for teaching me about heartbreak and happiness, and finding beauty in the highs and lows that come with being alive. And I will always find hope through her songs.
A picture I took at my first Florence Concert in June 2016 at the Budweiser Stage, Toronto, Ont.