Florence triumphs with debut SSE gig

Florence Welch, who opened her tour at the SSE Arena last night.
Florence Welch, who opened her tour at the SSE Arena last night.

Florence and the Machine were spectacular last night.

As the debut show in Belfast’s newly named SSE Arena, Florence certainly gave the building a big, blue, beautiful baptism.

The band ignited the room from the outset, bursting onstage to ‘What the Water Gave Me’ - recalling an anthem from their last album. With the audience warmed up, Florence sprang into ‘Ship To Wreck’, and stole the crowd away to another world with tales of sharks and killer whales.

Florence Welch is a joy to behold on stage. Clad in a deep red trouser suit and cream blouse, she spent the duration of the show dancing barefoot to and fro across the stage. And what a show it was.

Carrying the crowd through ‘Shake It Out’, ‘Rabbit Heart’ and ‘Delilah’ - a trio of songs spanning all three albums - Florence appeared to carefully craft each melody, frequently turning to conduct her musicians with flamboyant arm movements. The woman can dance.

Midway through, Florence frenzied a security guard as she launched across the stage’s borders and galloped into the crowd. Never stopping to stand still, here is an artist who truly ejoys what she does - and what she does, she does tremendously. Bounding across the stage while her voice never wavered, Florence was engulfed in an equally unshaken sound from her audience. While the Arena’s name might have changed, the crowds certainly haven’t - and last night demonstrated just how good a welcome Belfast can give.

When Florence said, “Jump” - just like a game of ‘Simon Says’ - we jumped. She didn’t have to ask us to sing; she simply turned to us with a conductor’s flourish and we sang all the songs because we knew all the words.

Casually robbing an audience member of her floral crown, Florence paraded around the stage like a smug little girl with a new hairband. She danced to each song as you might dance carelessly in your room to your favourite song - and it was smile-inducing to watch.

She took time out to talk to her audience, too, visibly overwhelmed by the crowd’s support. Rounding off her take on Candi Staton’s 1986 single. ‘You Got The Love’, Florence introduced her next song: “I wrote this song and now I want to give it to you: it’s yours.” The tour’s title track, ‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful’, pulled the audience into a whirlpool of medlodious goodness - climaxing in an instrumental of trumpet-fueled splendour.

Taking it down a notch with ‘Cosmic Love’ and ‘St Jude’, the band never lost momentum as they meandered through ‘Mother’ and ‘Queen of Peace’. There was a welcome recollection of Florence’s earlier years, with ‘Spectrum’ and ‘Dog Days’, reminding us that she and her machine really had mastered this whole music-making thing right from their beginnings in 2009.

Despite momentarily fooling some audience members into thinking the show was over, the lights stayed low and - after Belfast’s customary cries for “One more tune!” - Florence and the Machine stepped back onstage for ‘Long And Lost’. Much to the crowd’s merriment, ‘What Kind Of Man’ finally materialised, and the concert concluded with the bouncing rhythms of ‘Drumming Song’ - a very welcome flashback to her debut album.

With tears brimming on her smiling face, Florence declared, “Thank you so much, Belfast. This has been the most wonderful first show we could have hoped for. You’ve made us feel at home.”

And, while it’s no longer the Odyssey, the crowd last night proved that it’s still our home, too.