I always look forward to gigs and events at new venues and Summer Sessions in Edinburgh did not disappoint. The gardens below Princes Street in the heart of Edinburgh were screened from public view so the location couldn’t be fully appreciated until I entered the arena. Set at the foot of a partly paved slope this was one venue where even the smallest punter was guaranteed a decent view; and what a view! With a backdrop of Edinburgh Castle looming above the stage the setting was impressive in daylight but really came into its own as darkness encroached and we were rewarded with the vision of Florence + the Machine performing with the illuminated castle towering above. Truly spectacular!
Support came from Self Esteem; not an act I was familiar with but they proved thoroughly enjoyable. Best described as off kilter pop, Rebecca Taylor flanked by 2 backing singers and live drummer, treated us to a set that combined acapella vocals, with tracks mixing drums and programmed beats. Visually it looked good and there were some immediately catchy songs but it was the interesting beats that lifted the band above the average. Ms Taylor clearly enjoyed the experience, effusively telling the audience that this was the best gig of her life as she left the stage. I’ve no idea how genuine she was being but the performance received a great reception from the crowd; way above the response that most support acts tend to receive.
With her current album and during recent interviews Florence Welch has opened up about her anxiety, emotional struggles and a desire to move away from the routine of recording and touring. With the cancellation of Boardmasters Festival these Edinburgh shows were likely to be her last UK performances for some time. As the evening progressed Florence’s emotions became increasingly palpable as did the sense that she and her audience were coming to the end of an era.
As the band took to the stage almost 20 minutes late the nervous glances and conversations among security at front of stage were replaced by expressions of relief. Opening with the slow but increasingly majestic “June,” this was the statuesque yet vulnerable Florence at her best. Hunger followed; opening with the deeply personal lines, “At 17 I started to starve myself” but building to the joyous chorus with Florence running back and forth and swirling dervish like, the audience really came to life.
Three songs in we were treated to a meandering monologue, quasi-religious and referencing love and god, it seemed a little “over the top” and I began to wonder whether Florence was, “alright.” In the event it proved the first of a number of outpourings that punctuated the music throughout the performance. “Patricia” was prefaced by a celebration of the power of women and dedicated to Patti Smith while “Jenny of Oldstones” from Game of Thrones brought another dedication, this time to the fictional Aria Stark.
A little later we were asked to embrace and then politely requested to put phones and cameras away. She wanted us, “in the moment” focusing on the music. Whether it was being unburdened of phones or just the nature of the song I don’t know, but as the band launched into “Dog days are over” it brought a euphoric and rapturous audience response. It was the most photogenic moment of the night but she had been right; it was a moment for us, not to be shared with others.
In a set dominated by excellent recent album, High as Hope, the band were faultless throughout, perfectly complimenting the moods and variations in pace that Ms Welch brought to the songs. My only gripe being the inclusion of too many songs from the “How big, how blue” album at the expense of earlier material, but that’s just my personal taste.
Towards the end things became really emotional. In another pause between songs Florence spoke of her love for her audience and music interwoven with personal emotions and difficulties in performing. There were thanks for support over her 10 year career culminating in the shocking statement that without the music and her audience she didn’t believe she would be alive today. It was a heartfelt glimpse into her emotional state and really felt as though this was someone bringing a chapter of her life and career to a close.
Returning for an encore, she began with the almost mournful “No Choir” with lyrics echoing some of the sentiments voiced above. The pace and tone barely changed with “Big God” before everything erupted into euphoria once more with the inevitable “Shake it out.” The Fireworks that closed proceedings were visually impressive but really this had already been a night of musical and emotional fireworks. A special gig.
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