In an age of such concentrated, oppressive isolation — faces affixed to screens, individuals locked in cozy, self-selecting bubbles of comforting affirmation — it can be a remarkable, galvanizing thing to be reminded of the humanity of the person standing right next to you.
Such weighty realizations might have been the last things on the minds of most of those attending Saturday night’s Florence + The Machine performance inside Irving’s the Pavilion at Toyota Music Factory. But once the beloved baroque pop band completed its arresting, enthralling 95-minute set, it was difficult not to walk out into the concrete sprawl of the Dallas suburbs feeling, however briefly or imperceptibly, altered.
Led by the flame-haired Florence Welch, a vibrant force of substance at a moment when the wider pop music realm desperately needs such a figure, Saturday’s stop on the “High as Hope” tour, which marked her band’s first DFW-area gig in two years, found the 32-year-old singer-songwriter using her four studio albums to date, including last year’s High as Hope, as a springboard to grand concepts and even grander gestures.
Backed by eight musicians, on a stage that strongly resembled a futuristic sauna occasionally augmented with billowing drapery suspended above it, the South London-born Welch stood still during the first verse of the show-opening “June.”
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Once she hit the chorus — “Hold onto each other,” four words that would come to define the night — she was rarely still again for long, racing from one side of the stage to the other, and even during “Delilah” late in the set, deep into the crowd, her bare feet flashing and diaphanous gown swirling.
The audience, which filled nearly all of the Pavilion at Toyota Music Factory, was in sync with Welch from the moment she first appeared, roaring its approval at her every movement or utterance, and following her commands to move with precise abandon.
One striking moment came during “Dog Days Are Over” (or, as it is perhaps better known, the Florence + The Machine song everyone knows even if they have no clue who or what Florence + The Machine is) when Welch instructed everyone in attendance to put away their phones, and simply jump around as the song exploded into its feverishly exhilarating chorus.
The effect was profound, watching a venue full of people losing themselves in the music, and nary a glowing screen in sight. Call it a 21st century concert-going miracle.
But such is the genius of Florence + The Machine: Making the miraculous accessible.
Time and again, Welch, armed with her diamond-sharp contralto, would pull off the rather difficult feat of making the intimate and delicate textures of her sharply observed songs — “Hunger,” “Only If for a Night,” “100 Years,” “Ship to Wreck” or the main set-closing “What Kind of Man” — scale up to fit and fill the live space she and her bandmates were inhabiting.
To convey the fragility of emotions she’s often referencing, without it coming off as anything other than a genuine transference of feeling between artist and audience, is an astonishing feat, even more so when considering the fraught moment in time in which we’re all living.
“Like I’m sure many of yours do, my heart hurts on a daily basis,” Welch said at one point Saturday. “Please don’t give up on hope. … A revolution of consciousness begins with the individual. Don’t ever think your actions, however small, aren’t helping.”
In that spirit, Welch encouraged the audience to engage with one another, pushing individuals out of their comfort zones, and into a true collective: Exhorting those seated to stand up before “Queen of Peace,” or imploring everyone to hold hands during “South London Forever,” or declaring that the audience must embrace and tell one another we love one another during “Dog Days are Over.”
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Taken together, the effect was powerful.
It also felt like an embodiment of the lyric, repeated within the High as Hope track “Patricia,” and which appeared — very likely not by accident — at the exact midpoint of Florence + the Machine’s setlist: “It’s such a wonderful thing to love.”
Hearing it shouted aloud Saturday night, over and over until it became something like a mantra, gave the song, the night, the band and the people in attendance a kind of power — an armor, perhaps — to slip free from their individual isolation and come together as human beings, united in the desire to beat back the darkness and rise above whatever separates us.
The evening began on a fairly sophisticated note: Florence + The Machine is being joined on tour by jazz wunderkind Kamasi Washington, whose hour-long set probed the edges of the universe, and indulged in the kind of futuristic freak-outs that are an ideal fit for Welch and company’s boundary-pushing pop-rock. The affable Washington rejoined Florence + The Machine for a two-song encore, adding spiky textures to “Big God” from High as Hope, and the anthemic “Shake It Out.”