Florence and the Spirit

by Tess Adair

Last week, I went to the Florence and the Machine show at Seattle’s Key Arena with my dear friend Linda. Key Arena is huge, and the venue was almost if not completely sold out. It was one of the two biggest shows I’ve ever been to; the other was Bruce Springsteen.


To be honest, I prefer smaller shows. For me, nothing beats the intimacy of a smaller venue--I like feeling that I’m sharing something unique with the crowd, and I love the (occasional) sense that I could reach out and touch a performer I’ve long admired.


Much to my surprise and delight, Florence delivered that intimacy despite the size of the crowd.

She came out in front of the stage, arms full of flowers, which she proceeded to hand out personally to the crowd. Like the mystical wood nymph she is. And she spent the whole show barefoot--which did not in any way prevent her from running at top speed back and fourth across the stage--and directly into the audience.

She opened up the concert just like she’s opened up every album--with smashingly powerful vocals over soaring music. Florence music isn’t exactly dance music, but it’s way too big to sit through. We ended up standing for most of the concert, as did most of the [insanely huge] crowd.


About that huge crowd--they were actually pretty great. Before the show, a middle-aged dad came in with his two preteen-to-early-teen daughters, both proudly boasting gloriously intricate Florence t-shirts. He asked a woman nearby to take their picture, and all three of them beamed gloriously. There’s something oddly touching about seeing someone ask a stranger to take their picture these days, instead of opting for an awkward-yet-ubiquitous three person selfie.


Two rows ahead of us, another couple had brought their daughter--she looked to be about 4 or 5 years old. That kid ROCKED it the whole show. It was great.


Of course...there was a downside to the giant crowd (you know, apart from trying to get out of there.)


The cell phones. All the fucking cell phones.


Yeah, whatever, I’m a cranky old man.

At least half of the audience had their phones out during the warm-up act. I understand this to some extent--the openers aren’t who you came to see (and, to be honest, they were not my thing at all.) But there’s something so disheartening about standing in a concert venue and looking out at literally hundreds of people all staring at their cell phone screens throughout an entire performance. If you’re so bored, why not talk to someone you came with? Or take a little walk around the venue? Or, I don’t know, spend a few moments with your own thoughts?


I used to make sure I took tons of pictures whenever I went out somewhere, or went to a party. But eventually I realized how onerous that was--every time I did it, I felt like it took something away from me. I was so intent on memorializing the moment that I forgot to experience it.


So I stopped doing that. Maybe my Facebook wall is a little less impressive now, but I don’t regret it for a moment. You know what else I don’t regret? Deleting Facebook off my phone. In fact, I think it’s one of the best decisions I ever made.


And I think Florence might just agree with me.

To be clear--a lot of people did put their phones away after the opener. But a LOT of people didn’t: I could still look out and see over a hundred little cell phone lights. At least one that I could see was staring hard into his little screen while he recorded the performance, which boggles my mind. Why would you pay for a concert ticket only to watch it in miniature the whole time? You’d be better served to stay home and watch one of the many Florence concert videos that have already been uploaded to youtube. (Many of which are professional, so...better quality than yours.)


But then...Florence. I love Florence.


A little ways into the show, Florence addressed the audience in her lyrical, adorably polite-sounding British-accented voice to make a request.


“I’d like to ask something of all of you now--for the next song, everyone please put away their phones. Let’s remember this one with our eyes and our ears, and be here in this moment together--fully experience this moment, and share it with everyone around you, everyone in this room, right now. Because that’s what this next song is about--living in the moment, experiencing life at its fullest, looking up all around you instead of always looking down. And please, please don’t be that guy--that one guy who doesn’t put his phone away. I always see you, and it bums me out. Please don’t make me sad! Thank you!”


[Obviously, I am paragraphrasing to the best of my ability.]


Then she launched into “Third Eye,” from the newest album. It’s a wonderful, powerful song, and it was glorious to watch her perform it--with not a cell phone light in sight.


Some of the lyrics:


“You don’t have to be a ghost

Here amongst the living

You are flesh and blood

And you deserve to be loved and you deserve what you are given.

And oh how much!

’Cause there’s a hole where your heart lies

And I can see it with my third eye

And oh my touch, it magnifies

You pull away, you don’t know why.”


I’m not religious at all, and I wouldn’t even call myself a spiritual person most of the time. But Florence makes me feel spiritual.

To me, this song (and her request) is about making the decision to embrace life and all that comes with it. It’s about the explosiveness of emotion--both positive and negative, because you can’t have one without the other.


The alternative is to run away--which might protect you from some pain, but it’ll also prevent you from learning and growing. It will prevent joy, too.


Just like, on a far smaller scale, recording a concert on your phone might allow you to broadcast your attendance and preserve the moment in eternal internet memory--but what moment are you really preserving? Everything you felt and saw came to you through the filter of your viewscreen. It’s like walking through the world in your own personal tech bubble.

Like a good number of her fans, I jumped on the Florence train with her first big hit--Dog Days. I heard the song first on Glee and loved the lyrics, so I looked up the song.


I’d thought the Glee cover was pretty good until I heard the original. Then I thought it was blasphemy that anyone might think that cover did it justice. It’s not a bad cover--but it’s just so tame. It lacks the dramatic shifts, the chaotic power of the original. And that music video--so strange and so beautiful.

florence 8.jpg

That one, yeah.


So, for me, it started with that song. But she really got me hooked with the rest of the album--full of vibrant imagery, interplay with old myths, as well as fabricated myths so epic and compelling they might as well be real, and the kind of emotion that feels like it will burst right out of your chest.

It was like I’d entered a whole new world.


Don’t get me wrong, I loved music before that. My first love will always be Elvis Costello--but I’ve been listening to Elvis Costello since...well, pretty much since I was a gleam in my momsie’s eye. So he’s wonderful, but he’s never been new to me. And before Florence, the vast majority of new music I heard had been...well, fine, but nothing that changed my world.


But Florence did. Her music spoke to me in my own language--the language of myth and poetry and crashing waves, emotions too big to be contained.


And going to her show last week...it’s as close as I’ll ever come to experiencing that again--the first time I listened to that first album and heard the music I’d been waiting for my whole life.

Thank you, Florence. I had a wonderful time.

Can’t wait to do it again sometime.