Belfast Telegraph

Flawless Florence and the Machine storms Belfast stage like well-oiled machine

Florence and the Machine, SSE Arena, Belfast

By Andrew Johnston

It was the launch of a tour that will take Florence and the Machine up to Christmas.

Perhaps more importantly for local fans, it was also the debut of a venue that, if it's anything like its predecessor, will entertain tens of thousands of Northern Ireland music lovers for many years to come.

The Odyssey Arena is dead; long live the SSE Arena - well, for at least the next decade, until the corporate sponsorship deal is up for renewal.

Most of the changes to the cavernous, waterfront complex, which has hosted everyone from Beyonce to Black Sabbath since 1998, are superficial.

The SSE energy company's green and purple branding now bedecks every wall, pillar and staircase, while a battalion of newly installed video monitors advertise upcoming gigs.

The venue has also entered the 21st century with the introduction of free wi-fi for customers.

Alas, a £3m overhaul hasn't managed to come up with a solution to the queues for the bars that block every corridor or the gridlock leaving the car park afterwards.

Still, one move of substance has been to upgrade the seats to ones that don't leave you stiff for a week or nearly decapitate you every time you stand up.

As comfy as everyone's bums were last night, they were up the second Florence Welch and her bandmates appeared shortly after 9pm.

Eschewing the garish SSE colour scheme for an easier-on-the-eye maroon and white ensemble, Welch commanded proceedings from the off, dispatching her dramatic warble as she zipped from one side of the stage to the other, looking like Axl Rose's hippy younger sister.

What the Water Gave Me and Ship to Wreck made for a punchy opening, with Welch's vocals immaculate and the musical backing flawless. Other early highlights included the forceful attack of Delilah and the sweeping theatrics of You've Got the Love.

Although 'the Machine' remained in the shadows for much of the evening - both figuratively and literally - Welch was energetic enough for seven.

High-profile slots at the likes of Electric Picnic and Glastonbury have allowed the frontwoman to hone her stagecraft, and she connected with everyone from the front row to the back of the hall.

New album title track How Big How Blue How Beautiful marked the midpoint of the set in moody fashion. Clearly an important song to Welch, she explained she had written it during some downtime between records, musing on its message of universal love.

"It's amazing to be playing at the Odyssey," the singer added, no doubt triggering a mass forehead slap in the executive lounge.

Four stars

Belfast Telegraph


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