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The absence of Florence and the Machine over the pandemic has been a conspicuous one. The baroque pop singer-songwriter has bided her time, and her outré approach hits even harder following a couple of years in hibernation. It might be referred to in music industry circles as an “underplay” – shows where artists perform at a far smaller venue than they usually would – but there’s nothing underplayed about this evening’s spectacular. The 2,000-capacity Los Angeles Theatre is definitely smaller than the arenas Florence Welch is used to, with her next LA gig taking place at the considerably more capacious Hollywood Bowl, but this 1930s movie palace’s lavish French Baroque-inspired interiors are every bit as flashy as what’s happening on the rose bush-lined stage.
As well as a sizable selection of fan favourites, from “Ship to Wreck” to “Dog Days Are Over”, this evening Florence Welch is premiering songs from her up-and-upcoming fifth album, Dance Fever, which she’s described as “a fairytale in 14 songs”. So far, so Florence. Based on this evening’s balloon-sleeved gown and loose, unadorned hair, Welch is still firmly committed to the pre-Raphaelite aesthetic, and, if anything, is leaning even more into the winsome medieval maiden look that the 19th-century arts movement so idolised.
But this isn’t just a frock for taking laudanum and talking about poetry in. This is a dancing dress. The fact that Welch can really move in this outfit, sheer and with a slit right up the front, is pivotal. The name of Welch’s first album in four years, is inspired by “choreomania” a Renaissance-era phenomenon that saw spontaneous outbreaks of group dancing, often leading its participants to injure themselves, or even die from such wild exertion.
Thankfully, there are no such fatalities tonight, but there is a whole lot of shaking it out, with Welch taking every opportunity to showcase deft and punchy moves finessed during her continued close collaboration with acclaimed LA-based choreographer Ryan Heffington, whose super stylised work has featured in everything from Euphoria to tick, tick... BOOM!
After she deftly powers through the vocal acrobatics of “What Kind of Man” and new song “King”, Welch’s dynamic, elegant moves fall to the wayside for 2008 debut single “Kiss With a Fist”. A punky-Stooges-meets-The Supremes juggernaut, it’s pure indie sleaze – the only option here is wild abandon. Speaking of indie sleaze, cult noughties electro-pop musician Tom Vek gets a surprising shout-out in Welch’s new song “Girls Against God”, which receives its US debut. A blast of what Welch refers to onstage as “Old Testament style fury”, it was written in lockdown and reflects on the possibility of never experiencing live music ever again.
“For a while I didn’t know if I had a job anymore,” explains Welch, ever-so-slightly stumbling over her words. “I can remember how to sing to this many people,” she smiles. “But not how to speak.” But when words fail her, the dancing never does. Propulsive new tracks “Free” and “My Love” – which Welch has previously described as “Nick Cave at the club” – are custom-made vessels for her pent-up pandemic energy.
“What I really missed the most was dancing,” she explains to the excitable, cavorting crowd with another grin. Looks like she won’t have to worry about that anymore.
‘Dance Fever’ is released on 13 May