Strangeness and Charm

Christopher McDermut/Senior Staff

The moon was near full on the starry night of Sunday, June 12. Luminous and imposing, it became a portent of the otherworldly night ahead. As the sun waned ahead the Greek Theater, mills of people, young and old, emerged from the woodwork. A mysterious scent permeated the air, herbal and intoxicating. A black curtain descended, white smoke began to billow across the stage and from that cavernous beyond, a single beacon of red flame burst forth: Florence Welch had arrived.

This wasn’t the first time the enchanting lead singer of British alternative band, Florence + the Machine has graced the Bay Area. Back in October, the band was featured at Oakland’s Fox Theater. But, never before have they played to a crowd as massive as the one at the 8500-capacity Greek Theater. Adorned in classical-style Corinthian columns and ornamented in stone thrones, the venue was befitting for a goddess like Florence. Romantic images could abound when describing her ethereal presence (sorry, the Machine, you’re going to be on the side lines for a bit). She’s a nymph-like temptress, an engaging enchantress but, in light of the Grecian overtones, she’s a siren — both beautiful and savage.

Like the mythic seductresses, Florence exudes an enigmatic dichotomy between her violently cacophonous voice and her subdued, ultra-feminine comportment. But before the scarlet-haired siren could entrap her audience, Los Angeles-based band, Hanni El Khatib, animated a barren stage, clad only in black draperies. With only two guys, a guitar and a drum, their syncopated rhythms and garage rock riffs revived old memories of the sadly, no longer White Stripes. It was an inspiring beginning but, the toe-tapping was still only mild-mannered. As Khatib stepped off, a black curtain was raised and, from within its confines (after an unbearable hour of transition time), a bewitching beast was ready to pounce.

Suddenly, she floated on stage clad in a billowy array of transparent green cloth. Like her persona, it was simultaneously harsh and soft. As the morbidly sardonic lyrics to “My Boy Builds Coffins” percolated through the atmosphere, Florence’s robust voice cut through the air like merciless knife. She was unafraid, uninhibited and unfettered by both the colossal crowd and her dress, which was precariously close to tripping her but never did. Whether it was during the pulsating beats of “Drumming Song” or the interstellar sets of “Cosmic Love,” Florence + the Machine delivered a strong, entrancing performance of both their album (Lungs) material, their song “Heavy In Your Arms” off the “Twilight Saga: Eclipse,” and an exclusive new track, “What the Water Gave Me” (a familiar sound with a synthy overlay).

All throughout, Florence was aggressive with her powerful vocal range. Searing and smooth, her lungs carried the material (already nearly two years old) to new heights as songs like “Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up)” slowly built up their tempo until Florence dealt the final, cataclysmic howl. But, without the equally-commanding backing of the electric equipment, Florence’s acoustic set felt off-balance amidst her vigorous vocal abilities. However, despite a somewhat lackluster interim of tranquil tunes, the sultry goddess rebounded with a resounding encore of “Dog Days are Over,” resulting in a spontaneous stage dive from an audience member. With a subtle sense of humor, a demure demeanor and a killer set of pipes that cut like a knife, the fiery goddess reigned supreme over her Grecian kingdom.