When you’re told the band’s gear arrived in 14 trucks, you know the show you’re about to witness is going to be big. Rarely does the Brighton Centre get to host gigs that ordinarily play only arenas.
Such was the case when Florence Welch brought her High As Hope tour to Brighton. The 24-year-old South Londoner has come a long way in the last ten years. Back then, she was just another artist playing The Great Escape; now she’s one of the select few who’ve headlined Glastonbury, something she did in 2015.
Even before she stepped onto the stage in Brighton, the set was visible — and it was visibly different. First, shying away from the current obsession of having a huge video screen as a backdrop, it was crafted in light wood, a series of sinuous horizontal layers with a curved thrust to one side.
It was designed by Willo Perron, the visual force behind Jay-Z’s recent tours. To be honest, it looked for all the world like the skyline of some over developed tourist resort.
Despite the obvious investment in staging, it was disappointing that it actually didn’t do anything other than accommodate the musicians and provide Florence herself with the space to dance.
Speaking of which, it’s only when you see her live, that you realise dancing (or at least twirling around) is such a central part of Florence’s performance. And if you’re going to spend a few hours moving in the spotlight, what you wear becomes all important.
Now stage outfits are usually just a stylistic choice by the artist, a reflection of their personality. More often than not, the bigger the artist, the higher the likelihood it will be something black and leather will be involved. Major artists however are increasingly turning to big name fashion designers to dress them in something special, something couture.
Adele’s recent world tour featured her wearing the same sparkly Burberry gown every night of the 100 dates. It quickly became her visual signature, instantly recognised as the symbol of the tour.
It turns out, Ms Welch has a long association with Gucci dating back to 2011 and has regularly worn the couturier’s gowns onstage. Indeed, she’s currently the face of Gucci Jewellery. The diaphanous apricot outfit, designed by Alessandro Michele, is the one that defines Florence and defines this tour.
Seen from a distance, the sheer gown accentuates her movement. However, only those close enough got to see the detail Gucci put into the floor-length dress: the beautiful floral applique, including Florence’s name, the lace edges and the gorgeous frilled sleeves.
As well as the stageset and Gucci gown, there was a third visual element that added much to the look of the show. Above the stage, three rows of huge billowing silks were, from time to time, lowered from the ceiling.
For me, theatrically, these moving silks were far more effective than the set itself. Both had an oriental feel to them, though if I were being picky, I’d point out neither the set, the silks nor the dress had any visual cohesion. It wouldn’t have taken much, for example, for the silks to have incorporated the same floral motifs as the gown or reflect the horizontal striping of the wooden set.
Turning from the visuals, to what took part on the stage, one had to be impressed by the musicians who provided Florence with such a lush soundscape to sing to. Particular credit must be given to three of the band: the two drummers who were the thunderous beating heart of her songs and, more than anyone else, the harpist who added the sparkle to the sonics. Equally important were the backing vocals, although it was hard to see who actually provided them.
Of course, the person everyone had come to hear was Florence herself. Onstage, she’s an ethereal figure, one minute static, clinging to her mic stand, the next a whirling dervish piroueting across the stage in her bare feet.
Regards the songs, to my ears too many sounded a bit too similar to each other. Those that stood out for me were Dog Days Are Over and Patricia, her paean to Patti Smith and South London Forever.
Towards the end, Florence ran through the audience to perform at the back of the venue. As spontaneous as this appeared, the truth is she does the same every show.
Something else she did was to ask (extremely politely) for everyone to put their phones away: ”Excuse me, please would you mind putting your phones away, we’re going to have an experience.” With that, she and the entire Brighton Centre were jumping en masse, with everyone holding both their hands in the air.
I must say this was a gig I enjoyed way more than I expected. The musicianship was impressive and there’s no question that Florence is a genuinely engaging performer. That being said, she can also be a divisive figure, with some claiming she’s one of the most overrated musical acts around. Seeing her for the first time, I have to say I came away more impressed than I expected to be.
While I don’t think she exudes quite the same star quality as some of her contemporaries, I’ve no doubt she will continue to evolve as an artist. I for one would like to see her experiment further with theatrical performance, involving set changes andadditional performers such as a dance troupe and a full orchestra.
The next time she tours, I hope it’s with a creative production that pushes the contemporary concert experience to another level.
Setlist: June | Hunger | Between Two Lungs | Only If For A Night | Queen Of Peace | South London Forever |Patricia | Dog Days Are Over | 100 Years | Ship To Wreck | The End Of Love | Cosmic Love | Delilah | What Kind Of Man? || Big God | Shake It Out
“To me, shooting live music is all about capturing the personality of the performer and the emotion of their performance. And then creating an iconic image.”
Behind the image: All these images (with the exception of the stage set which was taken with the iPhone 8 Plus) were taken with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and the 75mm 1.8 lens using the camera’s built-in digital zoom. I was only able to shoot the first three songs from the pit. As always, my focus was on tight portraits of Florence. Shooting her is quite challenging: she is either in motion or standing still with her eyes closed. She also has quite a hard, masculine face, which is particularly emphasised in profile under stage lights and because she wears little or no make-up. All these portraits have been processed with Prisma. I’m very happy with how they’ve come out and that they are so different from countless other images taken of Florence by numerous other photographers.
Special thanks to Gordon Duncan at APB PR for arranging my photopass and review tickets.