Florence + the Machine at Ball Arena (10/1/22)

Photo by Kassidy Paine (@kassidyaaren on Instagram)

CONCERT REVIEW: Florence + the Machine
Ball Arena, Denver 10/1/22

A siren, a songbird, an angel, a rebellious medieval princess singing her diary entries – just four things that came to mind as the English singer-songwriter Florence Welch twirled around the Ball Arena stage, under about a dozen white chandeliers, on Saturday night. The tall, redheaded songstress (barefoot in her customary flowing gown and crown) and her incredible band (The Machine) played to a packed house of just under 20,000 fans – many of whom came decked out in flowing gowns and flowered crowns of their own, and not just the ladies.

In all my years, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many concertgoers cosplay the act they were paying to see, and that includes Mac DeMarco fans. It was honestly unnerving at first – and funny when I jokingly asked a group of girls if they could spare an extra flower crown and was told, without a hint of sarcasm, “No, I’m sorry, we don’t” – but when, as “Dream Girl Evil” kicked in, Ms. Welch leapt into the front of the crowd to sing while held up by the hands of her most devoted, passionate, screaming-and-crying fans, it was suddenly not only sweet but moving.

Welch is just 36, but her debut album, Lungs, was released when she was 22 and her catalog is impressive and extensive. A bunch of songs from Lungs, including “Kiss with a Fist,” hit hard on Saturday in Denver, and found Welch repeatedly punching the air as her band delivered tasteful, energetic rock behind her. It was her first trip to Colorado since before the pandemic began, and while her fashion sense (think Princess Buttercup-as-a-rockstar, or Stevie Nicks) remains intact, her stage set has transformed from hanging white fabric to putting a veritable ice castle behind her instead of her drummer and singing underneath a giant door frame filled with giant white chandeliers.

Though Welch brought Ball Arena to a boil by singing several songs from within the crowd, holding hands with fans or simply walking amongst them, she also sang “Big God,” a powerful and thought-provoking 2018 ballad, within a sort of black-curtain cage that allowed her to play with shadows as she sang.

Welch’s most effectual music has a direct line from Kate Bush’s before-her-time pop-rock and falls somewhere between David Bowie’s pre-Ziggy folk (think “Memory of a Free Festival”) and Madonna’s “Like a Prayer,” with a unique combination of thumping drums, jangly guitar and a twinkly harp added. Half of her band features multi-instrumentalists who astutely support Welch through a plethora of feels, but for all their tasteful, trained musicianship they also know how to rock. Bangers like “Ship to Wreck” got the Ball Arena crowd dancing, and before the final tune, “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up),” Welch implored the audience to celebrate the end of lockdowns by engaging in “a resurrection of dance” and taking her “Dance Fever Tour” theme seriously.

“Denver!” she shouted. “People in the back, up top, I see you! On the sides and in the middle! You’ve given us so much, but I don’t want you to take anything home with you. Leave everything you have on the floor.” For a moment I thought Welch had turned into some sort of guru who demanded the emptying of pockets as a tribute. “We want every last piece of your energy, Denver,” she explained further. “Can you give that to us?”

The roar was a resounding yes in response. It was my third time at Ball Arena in about a week, having witnessed Denver’s palpable, raucous responses to Gorillaz and Pearl Jam, but Welch’s connection with her fans was on another level – and at times surreal because of her unabashed leaps into pits of screaming, crying girls and boys dressed just like her, at one point donning one of the flower crowns a fan brought. Welch even singled out one young woman in a flower crown and white dress who was literally convulsing with sobs and hugged her tight as they sang together.

Photo by Seth Husk

The opening act, 24-year-old Florida singer Ethel Cain, looked like she might as well have been one of those beautifully hysterical Florence fans in the crowd, but her music – inspired by Christian hymns, indie-pop and, clearly, Florence Welch – quickly earned the respect and support of the big crowd, which made Cain smile continuously.

I joked aloud at one point that the very talented Cain looks like the girl in The Ring who comes through the television, feeling bad about it even as it left my lips.

“But before she died,” I was hilariously reminded.

Perhaps the most touching moment of the night was when Welch brought Cain on stage midway through the headliner’s set to not just sing on but share lead vocal duties on the enchanting and inspiring new song “Morning Elvis.” Both singers were beaming, and both delivered absolutely stunning performances.

If Welch, who thanked the crowd for embracing her “messy, broken, shameful” feelings put to music, inspires people of all ages to do more than dance, I hope it’s what she commanded at one point as the crowd listened intently: “To anyone joining us for the first time, or to anyone chaperoning, asking ‘What the fuck is this? Is this a cult? Is this some kind of British pagan ceremony?’ if you just do what I say you’ll be absolutely fine: Put your phone away!”

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