5 reasons Florence + the Machine was a perfect ACL Fest closer

Florence and the Machine headlines the Samsung stage and closes out the second weekend at Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park on Sunday October 11, 2015. Suzanne Cordeiro for AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Florence and the Machine headlines the Samsung stage and closes out the second weekend at Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park on Sunday October 11, 2015. Suzanne Cordeiro for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

She does broad sweeping emotion exceptionally well. Florence Welch does not have a conventional voice. It’s deep, moody and occasionally borderline shrill. But it’s a brilliant vehicle for the emotion that sweeps through her, seizing her body as she pours out her soul. With a mirrored tapestry that mimicked rippling water at her back, she opened with “What the Water Gave Me” her voice building to a shout on the third verse “You couldn’t have it any other way!” The song is a strange elegy that grapples with darkness in a mythic sense. She followed it with “Ship to Wreck” a song from the new album about wrestling with personal demons.

A few minutes later she asked the audience to be her choir for the night and with an crowd of thousands lifting their voices in solidarity, she performed a glorious version of “Shake It Out” one of the most uplifting anthems of the modern era which re-frames a cliche “It’s always darkest before the dawn” as an ecstatic declaration of independence. She’s a master of deeply cathartic emotional whiplash. I cried. Twice.

Her feet don’t touch the ground. Welch doesn’t wear shoes when she performs and she rarely stops moving. She sprinted around the stage, spun in circles and at one point ran through the pit high-fiving fans before dashing to the mid-field sound barrier where she sang to the back half of the audience.

She made a crowd of thousands feel intimate. Welch aims to create an experience at her performances. “Are you ready to dance with us?” she cried at the beginning of “Spectrum.” She invited the audience to move madly with the pulse of a rhythm designed more for channeling spirits than booty shaking. Later she asked audience members to turn and face the stranger standing next to them, to give them a hug and connect on a human level. Thousands happily complied.

She also invited the audience to remove a piece of clothing and wave it in the air like a flag to represent something they needed to let go of. Then she removed her own shirt and dashed through the front of the crowd in her bra.

The music. Welch was backed by an 11-piece ensemble, including a trio of brass players who doubled as vocalists, occasionally joining the two back-up singers in a Greek chorus of epic harmonies. The levels were amazing. Huge crescendos of sound subsided to quiet acoustic guitar. Also, who else puts a harp front and center in their set up and makes it work beautifully?

She makes her own rules. Any other artist would have taken the show out on the deliriously buoyant sing-along version of “Dog Days Are Over,” her biggest hit. But Florence follows her own muse and she still had emotions left to work out. She ran down into the crowd, hugged more fans and made out with a stranger during “What Kind of Man” then exorcised a few more demons with a furious rendition of “Drumming Song.”

Any other artist’s crowd would have started to peel out. It was late. There were shuttle and taxi lines to beat. But there was little movement in Florence’s crowd. Who could go? We were thoroughly entranced by the best closing set we could have hoped for at the end of a fantastic weekend of soaring sounds.

Author: Deborah Sengupta Stith

Deborah Sengupta Stith has been hanging out in dimly lit corners of the city soaking in the music scene for almost 20 years. Twitter: @deborific

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