Gig review: Florence + the Machine, First Direct Arena, Leeds

Florence + The Machine, playing at First Direct Arena, Leeds, UK, on the opening night of her High as Hope tour. Picture: Anthony Longstaff
Florence + The Machine, playing at First Direct Arena, Leeds, UK, on the opening night of her High as Hope tour. Picture: Anthony Longstaff
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As Florence Welch is known for orchestral crescendos, rip-roaring vocals and dancing that breaks limbs (quite literally at Coachella in 2015), her fourth studio album with stripped back arrangements and immensely personal lyrics came as somewhat of a surprise.

Ahead of the first date of Florence + the Machine’s High as Hope tour in Leeds, the question plaguing everyone was: how would this impassioned songstress translate these intimate tunes into a performance?

Florence + The Machine, playing at First Direct Arena, Leeds, UK, on the opening night of her High as Hope tour. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

Florence + The Machine, playing at First Direct Arena, Leeds, UK, on the opening night of her High as Hope tour. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

With bare feet and a green chiffon dress flowing down to her ankles, Florence pads quietly into the centre of the stage where she is surrounded by pale wooden cladding and soft lighting. As the gentle chords of ‘June’ begin and Florence’s dreamy vocals spread out across the arena, it seems as though we might be meeting with a more pensive version of the high-octane performer. But, by the time we reach the line “You’re so high, you’re so high”, Florence has abandoned the mic stand and is pirouetting across the stage.

She jumps straight into recent stand out single ‘Hunger’ with more elegant leaps and bounds, following it up with a string of songs selected carefully from her previous three albums. By the time we reach ‘South London Forever’, she has got the audience of 13,000 all holding hands, rousing even the back rows with a speech about love and hope.

The biggest cheers are reserved for ‘Dog Days are Over’, the band’s 2009 breakout hit. During the bridge, Florence sets the arena jumping, urging us to let go of memories we’d rather forget. Before singing ‘Cosmic Love’ – another song from her first album – she thanks the room for “keeping these songs safe for nearly 10 years”, a feat that even she seems surprised by.

She closes the evening with ‘Shake it Out’ as glitter cascades down from the ceiling. After the final notes fade and the band leaves the stage, Florence can be spotted hugging fans. It is this perfect mix of vulnerability and intensity that makes Florence an enduring star. She manages to entertain and inspire in equal measure. A girl along the row screams out: “Florence we love you!” A sure sign that her songs will be kept safe for at least another 10 years to come.

Florence + The Machine, playing at First Direct Arena, Leeds, UK, on the opening night of her High as Hope tour. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

Florence + The Machine, playing at First Direct Arena, Leeds, UK, on the opening night of her High as Hope tour. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

Florence + The Machine, playing at First Direct Arena, Leeds, UK, on the opening night of her High as Hope tour. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

Florence + The Machine, playing at First Direct Arena, Leeds, UK, on the opening night of her High as Hope tour. Picture: Anthony Longstaff