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Florence woos (and wows) Santa Barbara in a cat-suit and cape.

April 18, 2012

Florence and the Machine paid a short musical visit to Santa Barbara last Saturday evening, appearing in the impossibly picturesque Santa Barbara Bowl – a venue accommodating just under 5,000 people, nestled in a natural amphitheatre in the Santa Barbara hills and surrounded by leafy trees. This venue, known for its fine acoustics, was especially suited to Florence and the Machine’s kind of live performance, and Florence’s vocals-driven act in particular. Florence performed material from her latest album, Ceremonials, with a few fan-favourites like Dog Days are Over thrown in. The performance was her first in the USA for this tour.

Florence is known for her visual literacy and it was expected that the show would look good. This stage set was a chic homage to Art Deco design with a strain of Florence’s hippy/alternative aesthetic. She complemented the design with a silvery bodysuit and flowing ethereal cape (good for twirling) – and bare feet.

Florence is an interesting stage presence. She whirls, she twirls, she hops up and down (as did her audience), resembling a graceful praying mantis from afar. In her interactions with the crowd she manages to walk a fine line between fey-cutesy and fey-eccentric, and her onstage persona is cool, intimate, respectful and appreciative without crossing the line into suck-up. She donned the flower headdress made by a front-row fan and touched the hands of all she could. Her vocals, occasionally strident and overwhelming her accompaniment, were generally glorious and occasionally transcendent, well-matched by a skilled, professional band and backing vocals. 

The very best thing about this concert was the audience and the vibe. Florence attracts a very woman-centric (and gay woman-centric) crowd, mixed in with curious locals and youngsters of college age. Her every song, and comment, was greeted with appreciative woops and yells and the small, around 4000-strong crowd seemed stadium-sized at times. Having seen The Hunger Games the evening before, it was a wonderful girl-power double whammy of a weekend, and all the more memorable and affirming for it.

So, on the whole, as good as the album, if not better, in my opinion. With real musicians and innovative performers, live always is.

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