The time off between records and touring has done Florence Welch a lot of good. While Florence and the Machine’s sophomore effort, Ceremonials, directly followed the world tour for her debut, 2009’s Lungs, this time she had a chance to come off the road and live a normal life for a couple of years.
The result is the forthcoming How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, which doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but finds its own identity. Florence and the Machine took the new material out for a test drive Wednesday at the Masonic; their first show in the U.S. with the new album, set for release on June 2. The band will perform again tonight, in preparation for Coachella this weekend.
That new identity is both visual and musical. The visual was demonstrated first. Welch wore not a flowing, ethereal dress, but black jeans, with a sheer white shirt, a scarf loosely knotted around her neck in the appearance of a tie, and for a couple of songs, a suit jacket. And, unique for the typically barefooted performer, boots. The image portrayed a more masculine, driven and grounded performer.
As for the new songs, of which the band performed a lion’s share, this Welch now relies less on her signature harp and militaristic percussion and more on edgier guitar riffs. Her band also appears to have more freedom to explore new territory, not letting her have all the fun. Welch interacted with the crowd, and more than any of her previous Bay Area stops, with her band, which included two back-up vocalists and a three-member female brass section.
After opening with a blistering version of Ceremonials’ “What The Water Gave Me,” the band segued into new tune “What Kind of Man,” which worked wonderfully visually with Welch’s attire. The new album’s title track followed a couple songs later, with an explanation from Welch.
“The title of the album was inspired by the American sky” and a relationship she was in at the time, which later fell apart, she said.
“But you come back to this feeling, always.”
The brass performers brought an exciting new element to a majority of the show, but particularly on this song, highlighted on the bridge. The conclusion included Welch spastically dancing an interpretive routine – think Sia music video. Lungs’“Drumming Song,” followed, and nearly two-thirds of the way through the show, was one of only two songs performed off the debut. And here’s the kicker: The other one was not “You’ve Got The Love.” “Dog Days Are Over” closed out the main set, with Ceremonials’ “Shake It Out” and the live debut of new tune “Ship To Wreck” in between.
It was a bold move to skip her first hit song, and Welch proved it’s no longer a song she has to lean on for energy and sing-along potential. Plenty of her Ceremonialsand new material easily fills that gap.
The encore featured two more new songs, including the subdued “St. Jude,” which Welch said was written about “two storms,” one that passed over England while she was writing, and the other a personal tempest in her life at the time. With reined-in vocals, Welch reminded that she can impress without the full use of her strong pipes.