Florence Welch’s current tour might have felt like a minor afterthought after her grand summer, when an unfortunate leg break for Dave Grohl meant that she and her Machine were elevated to worthy Glastonbury headliners in place of Foo Fighters. But playing four nights at Alexandra Palace is a feat in itself, and nothing about the first of those concerts felt small.
A blustery opening flurry of What the Water Gave Me, Ship to Wreck and Shake It Out felt like an encore from the off – music that was bursting at the seams topped by a voice that held long, powerful notes with ease. Barefoot, red hair flying, spinning like a music box ballerina then sprinting across the wide stage as the songs swelled ever bigger, she easily drew every eye in the room towards her. Big screens placed in portrait aspect, always displaying the singer in close-up and never her thrusting 10-strong band, were dedicated to the idea of this impressive group as in fact a magnetic solo artist.
Her recent third album and third number one, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, is inspired by a traumatic break-up. She threw herself to the floor at the pummelling climax of What Kind of Man, and seemed emotional, hands over her face, as she sang “I’m the same, I’m the same, I’m trying to change,” during Third Eye. But mostly there was joy in her expansive gestures. She charged along the photographers’ pit high-fiving the front row, and urged everybody (well, half of us) to climb on someone’s shoulders while singing Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up).
At the close, with the harp and handclaps of her early single Dog Days are Over, she managed to summon an overpowering collective euphoria. First she compelled the crowd to “turn to each other and embrace each other,” then the next cry was “Take something off!” She went topless in Glasgow last week but on this occasion simply swung her waistcoat around. Even so, the group abandon that she inspired was something to behold. She deserves her seat at music’s top table.