The first time I saw Florence + The Machine, four or so years ago, I cried. It was at Austin City Limits, the sun was starting to set, and the woman with the most powerful voice on the planet was giving it her all, and then some. I didn't mean to tear up, it just happened. The show was that powerful.
Last night at Red Rocks, I managed to keep my tear ducts from filling, but the set was no less emotional, no less breathtaking. When Florence Welch switches from her insecure talking voice into her beast of a singing voice, it hits me right in the feels — especially under the moon and between the two magical monoliths of Red Rocks. Here are the seven most emotional, and arguably the best, moments from her Monday night set. (See our full Florence + the Machine slide show here.)
The acoustic set
"We want to do something a little special, a little intimate," Welch said as she stepped on stage to applause. The first half of her set was entirely acoustic. Instead of the normal drums and electric guitar, she opened with "Cosmic Love," featuring only her voice, back up singers and a harp. It was the perfect introduction to her subtle set that highlighted her musicianship more than production. The first half featured just vocals, harp, an acoustic guitar, and light drumming. It felt like you were sitting on a living room floor watching her perform, or more accurate considering the open-air venue, a campsite under the very stars she was singing about.
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Cover of Cold War Kids "Hospital Beds"
Covers are always a bold move, especially one as obscure as an old Cold War Kids song. The band originally recorded it as a B-side many years ago, and brought it back as part of the acoustic set. It was nothing less than a wonderful surprise. Welch and Cold War Kids should collaborate in the future. I'd listen to that for sure.
The church-like version of "Shake It Out"
"Shake It Out" is a powerful song. It's the kind of song you blast after a hard day and dance to alone in your underwear. It builds quickly and seems to rage against any kind of negativity with it's pounding beats and vocals. But, Welch included it as part of the acoustic set. The tempo was slowed, the backup vocals were loud, and instead of a swelling chorus, there seemed to be an equal focus on each individual lyric. Add to that the thousands in attendance singing along and it felt like some kind of vital Sunday hymn.
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The story of her dead grandmother
"Only If For A Night" is my favorite Florence + The Machine song. You could play it in literally any situation and I'll start singing along and tearing up. I never knew what it was about until last night. Welch explained that she was deep in the German woods with her band, and had a dream of her dead grandmother. She woke up crying, and oddly enough, one of her bandmates was crying too, with no explanation as to why. It was the odd spiritual experience that of course happened to someone like Welch, and it added infinite layers to the song.
I joked with my concert buddy that surely there were giant fans placed around Red Rocks, because whenever Welch spread her arms wide and looked to the heavens, a gust of wind would perfectly ruffle her hair and majestic white suit. Her hair and clothes were bellowing in the wind in the most surreal way. The wind seemed to bend to her command, dying down while she spoke, picking up at the choruses of her songs. It was strange, but those kinds of things happen at Red Rocks, and you learn just to appreciate them.
The stage lighting
stage lighting never gets enough credit, but it can really add or detract from a show. Send it from good to great. For Florence + The Machine, the lighting was subtle. But the one highlight was the single purple light focused on Welch for most of the show. Against her fire-y red hair and white suit, it was so perfectly gorgeous and intimate.
The sold out crowd all jumping together to "Dog Days Are Over."
"When I say "run," I want every single person to jump like their life depends on it," Welch screamed as the sold out audience all clapped along to the interlude of "Dog Days Are Over," the closer. She did, and the audience followed. Watching from the side, the sea of people are singing and jumping together was magical. It was one of those collective moments so rare in today's world, even rare at most concerts. Welch was running around the stage, belting out the words, and everyone was jumping and clapping, a smile on their face.