Those who know me personally can testify to the fact that I can be a cantankerous curmudgeon, especially when exhausted. So when I arrived at the Hollywood Bowl to see Florence + The Machine after returning from a two-week trip to Europe (jet lag included), one can only imagine the state of angry affairs. It did not help that the opening act (Kasami Washington) assaulted my ears beyond repair. It was as if he gathered all the greatest musicians he could find and told them to all play at the exact same time at the loudest possible volume. Five drummers pounding their instrument in unison? Check. Trombone? Check. DJ? Check. To say the set was not dynamic would be a drastic understatement. In fact, I angry-tweeted the bowl about the volume, and I turned to my 25-year-old companion to ensure that it wasn’t just my post-millennial age that incited my anger — it simply wasn’t good.
It’s also worth mentioning that I’ve been to a lot of shows at the Bowl and it’s not my favorite venue (I prefer The Greek). But if you ask non-concertgoers in Los Angeles, they will overwhelmingly endorse the Bowl. It’s legendary. Plus, it certainly helps that the Bougie wine and cheese crowd can pay a little extra to sit inside a glorified box — but that’s neither here nor there. It was not until seeing Florence + The Machine that I finally realized the true value of that venue. At approximately 9:15 p.m., Florence Welch entered the stage in unison with her very talented musicians, and it was as if the heavens opened up and released a gift from G-d amidst the stars and the mountains. The aesthetics of a show are often overlooked, and I finally understand the significance of optimizing every inch of space available. Her staging was impeccable, with perfect lighting and a background that looked as if it was pulled from a very expensive home, which made the large area feel incredibly intimate. As for the fashion, there are no words, but I’ll try. Florence wore an ethereal dress with a fluid fabrication that created a free-spirited ease while she performed. As she threw her entire body into each song and effortlessly floated around the stage, the lyrical layers of her dress created an irreverence matched only by Florence’s personality. And speaking of her personality, her audience asides often involved suggesting that we all hold hands and express our love — even to total strangers. Though I did not obey, I can certainly appreciate her oddities.
Florence is on tour to promote her third album, ‘High As Hope,’ and I admit I was unfamiliar upon arrival. I’m a fan, of course, but I had not yet listened to the record, which was ultimately an advantage. For starters, my brain wouldn’t fill in the gaps with familiarity, so the experience was fully fresh and unbiased. The fact that her live performance exceeded the record is an incredible accomplishment. There’s tons of time to get the record right, but there’s only one moment to perform it, and when done right, the dramatic effect is unmatched. There was a moment, for example, when she sang the lyrics to “Patricia,” and one moment particularly stuck out. “You’re a real man, and you do what you can / You only take as much as you can grab with two hands / With your big heart, you praise G-d above / But how’s it working out for you, honey? / Do you feel loved?” Because Florence revealed the song to be about “toxic masculinity,” when she delivered those particular lyrics, there was a palpable intensity, as if she was single directly to its subject.
I do not say this lightly, but of all the concerts I’ve seen in my life, Florence + The Machine wins the award for best show ever. She might have ruined me for life.