Florence Welch is a living, breathing contradiction; she’s both completely full, yet weightless. Document your experience with eating disorders on a single and you’re bound to attract some new, gossip-y attention. Sing about it live on tour and you’re also forced to relive and re-lift a lot of that emotional hardship. But entering the TD Garden stage Friday night (October 12), barefoot in a floor-length gown gracing her décolletage, Florence + the Machine radiated like a revelation.
As much as fans resist stylistic changes in their most treasured artists, there’s nothing more satisfying than witnessing a full-fledged spiritual transformation behind the once glassed-over, burdened eyes of your fave. On her lanky, red-headed surface, Welch is exactly the same as before, but she’s chock-full of victorious resplendence now instead of cumbersome amounts of booze. And she’s willing to admit it, as she explained to Boston that Florence + the Machine shows haven’t changed much since 2011, except one era was “drunk and shouty” and the present one exudes purity without the preachiness. Welch delivered the original “Shake It Off” (well, “Out”) in 2011 on Ceremonials, but with this year’s High As Hope, she actually did in her own narrative by bear hugging her trauma into oblivion.
While it’s become all-too-easy to make cult comparisons to certain bands’ devout-to-a-fault followings these days, this is Welch proving herself to the masses on one scarce example, not the other way around.
High as Hope details an average youth’s worth of petty shortcomings and lack of foresight, revolving around Welch’s ultimate reveal of her eating disorder. Her accompanying tour, in turn, is her very public penance, in which she berates herself (at least lyrically) but comes out on the other side with some seriously emboldened willpower and assurance, fitting the mold of her own “Big God.” She’s the prodigal performer, completely uplifted and unflinching as she recounts both her triumphs and defeats with equal splendor.
As she pranced around the Garden stage with a Pollyanna-like positivity, forever sans shoes, the religious archetypes came pouring out of her history; she spoke of angels on “June,” coming down from the mountains with tablets nestled in your palms on “The End of Love,” pleas to God on “100 Years.” All her deft movements became greater metaphors for exorcising personal demons; her sweeping hand gestures, frilly sleeves adrift, masqueraded as prayer hands, and her extended brush with the general admission pit proved to be a literal victory lap through the entire floor section.
Maybe it was the “juicy feminine energy” that Boston exuded that fueled her, maybe it was her own personal vindication that boosted her ability to present ”Shake It Out” with equal optimism as “Ship To Wreck.” Maybe more accurately, it’s because she put forth to the audience that “hope is an action,” clearly the frame of mind that sustained her during what otherwise would have been a painstaking album and tour to engineer.
She sealed off the show with “Big God” in her encore, a power move to reinstate that she’s grown into her own deity and feeds on her own self-approval. Begone with all kinds of emptiness and remorse, both voluntary and involuntary, and left-on-read text messages; she can decide when her “dog days” are over now.