Five songs into her Wednesday night concert, Florence + the Machine lead singer Florence Welch giggled softly as she surveyed the smallish (for this particular arena) but boisterous crowd at Charlotte’s Spectrum Center.
“You guys are really fun,” said the 32-year-old South Londoner. “Is this gonna be fun, or should we make it really weird?”
Still, while the thousands of fans in attendance responded with enthusiastic cheers — with some probably cautiously wondering, “Um, how weird are we talking?” — things actually only got a little weird over the course of the rest of her 16-song set.
It’s a little weird, for instance, the way she moves around the stage. How she can appear to be both gawky and graceful at the same time; how sometimes she moves through one of her trademark free-associative dances with such elegance yet at others simply barrels at top speed from one of the stage to another (or across the floor to the back of the arena) like a bull charging a matador.
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It was a little weird, too, when Welch implored fans explicitly to turn to someone they had never met and to tell that person “I love you.” She’d warmed people up for this by asking everyone to hold hands early in the show and then later to embrace, but most, I think, assumed they could get away with doing those two things with their friends.
And it was a little weird, in this day and age, to be able to sweep one’s gaze across an arena in the middle of a major rock concert and not be able to spy a single cellphone — because while fans had seemed hesitant to express their love for the nearest rando, virtually everyone in the vast room obliged her request to put away their devices and throw both hands in the air during the second half of a joyously fervent rendition of her biggest hit U.S. hit, 2008’s “Dog Days Are Over.”
Those little bits of weirdness, though, are what make Welch and her live shows so wonderful.
Well, that, and a muscular, expressive, lived-in voice that stayed consistently strong and clear for 95 minutes as she worked her way through emotive ballads (like “Only If for a Night”), brisk toe-tappers (like “Hunger,” one of her most current hits) and showstopping sing-alongs (like the night’s closer, “Shake It Out”).
Well, those things, and a positive message that jibes nicely with the name of her latest album and tour, “High as Hope.”
“I’m sure like many of yours do, my heart hurts on a daily basis these days,” the singer said during an early break between songs. “But I just want to say, please do not give up hope. I know it can feel so helpless, but a revolution in consciousness begins with individuals.
“And that might be making small changes, it might be the things you’re doing in your daily life, but never think that what you’re doing isn’t big enough or that it doesn’t matter. Because it will make a difference. Because hope is an action. So, please: I believe in love, I believe in you, please keep doing good in the ways that you can.”
She’s not above some of the arena-show hallmarks — a laser light show here, a thundershower of gold confetti there. She even followed up her cellphone-disappearing act by calling for a show of cellphone lights to decorate the arena while she beautifully and dramatically wailed her way through “Cosmic Love” late in the evening.
In a way, yes, it seemed to somewhat cancel out that earlier put-down-those-phones rallying cry of “We will not record this, we will not keep this, we will not share it. This is your moment!”
But chalk it up to a little bit more weirdness, to being just another way in which Welch seems to play by her own off-beat set of rules, along with: bravely performing the whole show in bare feet; oddly choosing not to go through the formality of introducing the eight touring members of the Machine or throwing any sort of shout-out to their supercool teenage opener, Billie Eilish; and fearlessly bolting out into the general-admission/standing-room-only floor section and continuing to sing “Delilah” as surprised fans pressed in on her from all sides.
Those particular lucky fans, by the way, suddenly had a person standing next to them that they could comfortably turn to and say “I love you” — and when they did so, they actually really meant it.
Florence + the Machine’s setlist
3. “Between Two Lungs”
4. “Only If for a Night”
5. “Queen of Peace”
6. “South London Forever”
8. “Dog Days Are Over”
9. “100 Years”
10. “Ship to Wreck”
11. “The End of Love”
12. “Cosmic Love”
14. “What Kind of Man”
15. “Big God”
16. “Shake It Out”
Billie Eilish’s setlist
5. “B------ Broken Hearts”
6. “Hotline Bling” (Drake cover)
7. “Party Favor”
8. “you should see me in a crown”
9. “Ocean Eyes”
11. “My Boy”