"When Welch asked us to embrace and touch our neighbour and strip a piece of clothing off, the crowd enthusiastically complied."
It was big and beautiful, but while there was very little blue sky for the opening Sydney Opera House forecourt performance from Florence + The Machine, they blew us away.
Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders was the perfect choice of support for the evening. Perhaps not used to playing such grand venues, Ladder, Donny Benet and company (sans Kirin J Callinan unfortunately) looked more than comfortable on the big stage. Ladder's guttural, monotonic croon rang out true with the early punters as he delivered tracks from Hurtsville and Playmates. Performing in such a venue with such lofty company can only work to expose this local gem to a wider audience, and it's about time.
The rain abated on cue as Florence Welch and her Machine hit the stage to rapturous applause, diving in to What The Water Gave Me. The second song, Ship To Wreck, found Welch disappearing from the stage, only to appear at the peak of the Opera House steps among her adoring fans. Prime photo opportunity! This was in no way peaking too soon for Welch. Her presence on stage was nothing short of captivating and if her flowing red hair and bare feet didn't give her the persona of a goddess, her angelic voice did.
Welch gave us so much in her performance — pirouetting from one side of the stage to the other, waving her hair maniacally and clearly enjoying every second — that when she asked us to put away our phones before Cosmic Love, we did. When she asked us to get up on someone's shoulders in Rabbit Heart, we did. When she asked us to jump in Shake It Out, we did. How could we not?
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With the topic of sound levels at the Sydney Opera House being in the news, it is worth noting that Welch's vocals could have done with being a notch higher. Her soaring, beautiful vocals should have been all-encompassing, rather than having to battle with the off-key wailings from your neighbour. Having said that, the 11-piece band behind Welch gave the set such a driving force. The horns were magnificent in What Kind Of Man and the harp beautifully delicate in You've Got The Love. In celebration of Neil Young's birthday, we were treated to a cover of Neil Young's Only Love Can Break Your Heart which obviously meant a lot to Welch, but sadly fell decidedly flat with the crowd.
The celebration of love and joy during Dog Days Are Over was overwhelming. When Welch asked us to embrace and touch our neighbour and strip a piece of clothing off, the crowd enthusiastically complied and before we knew it plastic ponchos were being swung with wild abandon. None of us were going to let the wet night beat us.
A small shower returned serendipitously during the encore of Mother before the finale of Drumming Song prompted a huge singalong and highlighted how bright Welch shines, bringing light to the dark on the steps of our national monument.