When someone runs full-speed from one side of a packed arena to the other, sans shoes, a typical response might be to: A. call the cops, B. duck-and-cover or C. run the other way.
Except, of course, when it’s the goddess-like Florence Welch, performing with her band Florence + The Machine on Wednesday night at Viejas Arena. The fiery-haired British singer could pretty much get away with whatever she wanted, and we’d be on our feet applauding the whole time.
When Welch took the stage on Wednesday, she laid it all on the table, pulling out all of her electrifying energy for a 16-song set that never once decelerated. There were grand gestures of dance, leaps so high I started to worry that she might break her foot (something she actually did do at Coachella in April), twirls of a prima-ballerina and of course, those full-on sprints across stage, through the venue and up onto platforms that may or may not have been pre-approved by security.
Wearing an all-white ‘70s-chic jumpsuit, minimal makeup (if any), capped by that illustrious red hair, Welch opened the night with “What the Water Gave Me” from the 2011 album, “Ceremonials,” setting the tone that this tour would not be exclusively dedicated to her and her group’s most recent album, “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful,” but rather a mix of the band’s resounding hits.
Speaking of resounding, Welch’s voice pierced through the night like a siren, so pure and powerful that even the least in-the-know fan (my plus-one) was impressed. When she bellowed the hit, “Shake it Out,” she connected a diverse audience singing every word back. For someone who seems like a better and more comfortable fit in a festival setting, the walls of Viejas Arena did provide some sort of benefit for Welch; they gave her voice a container to ring around and bounce through, so loud and stirring that there was no looking away.
In the same breath, that might have been the big downside of Wednesday night’s performance. Florence + The Machine were simply not meant to be contained. The arena seemed at times limiting of everything the frontwoman pours into her performances, especially as she ran to the back to be closer to fans restricted by seat rows and railings, something not typically the case at outdoor festivals. And for a band whose lyrics stir vivid, spiritual metaphors of the earth, water and the sky, there felt to be such a lack of connection in an air-conditioned building where college basketball games are played. To see Florence indoors is a bit of like seeing a bird fly around its cage.
Still, the two-hour concert (opened by the low-energy The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger) swept crowds onto their feet with songs from Florence + The Machine’s latest album including “Ship to Wreck,” “Delilah,” “Mother,” “Queen of Peace” and “What Kind of Man.” Songs from “Ceremonials” performed included “Shake it Out” and “Spectrum” and those from the 2009 album “Lungs” included “Rabbit Heart,” “Cosmic Love” and the final track of the show, “Drumming Song.”
The evening was not without the Calvin Harris hit, “Sweet Nothing,” this time stripped down to just a guitar line and Welch’s voice; a welcomed respite.
The highlight of the night was her performance of “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful,” which she dedicated to her Uncle Peter who passed away the night before. Welch made reference to the fact that her mother is actually from America and her family is rooted in Galveston, Texas. “He is closer to that big blue sky than we are now. I was nervous about doing this show because I was sad,” she said. “But you have made us feel all so at home. I didn’t want to do it and now I’m really glad I did.” She went on to roar through the song with tears in her eyes.
Not one to be held down by sadness, Welch took a turn when she asked audience members to remove a piece of clothing and wave it in the air during the sensational song, “Dog Days are Over.” While she whipped her vest around her head like a lasso, two girls in front of me fully removed their shirts and danced in utter bra-revealing bliss.
With Florence + The Machine, you might not know what you’re going to get, but you know it’s going to be a show full of heart and soul and a wild ride worth taking.