Saturday, April 17, 2010

Florence + The Machine, Holy Hail @ Kool Haus, Toronto (April 10, 2010)

Florence Welch: photo by Michael Ligon
  Florence Welch (of Florence + The Machine): photo by Michael Ligon

Update[April 20/2010, 12:16 am]: Review now up and sorry for the delay, but I've have had other things take priority recently.

Back in January I made it known that UK's Florence + The Machine's debut album "Lungs" was quite possibly the best pop album of 2009 and should have been on my Favourite Albums of 2009 list. The only thing is that I didn't get around to listening to her until the beginning of this year. The exhaustion of keeping up with new artists was the only reason I'd ignored her for so long even given the buzz she garnered locally, culminating in her sold-out debut Toronto appearance at The Mod Club a the beginning of November of last year. Originally her followup Toronto appearance was slated for the Phoenix, a natural progression for international up-and-comers who come through Toronto, but apparently she's much more popular than that as the show ended up being moved to the larger Kool Haus and sold out. And how good was the show considering the 2500-capacity venue it was in and known for it's less than desirable acoustics? Couldn't pay enough attention to the acoustics to notice, especially wearing earplugs, but lead singer Florence Welch displayed a confident and energetic stage presence that complimented her thoroughly engaging, full-throated vocals.

Hailing out of Brooklyn were opener Holy Hail. The four-piece split equally between male and female members played a set of DIY pop music merging garage rock amateurism with at times electro-beat embellishments. Initially seeming to hip for its own good, focusing more on textures than melody, that did eventually change as melodies, simplistic as they were, eventually revealed themselves. The charming, indie-rock casual vocals of lead vocalist Cat Hartwell were also a highlight. The band ended their set with a quirky double dose of Perry Farrell, first with Porno For Pyros' "Pets" which then segued into Jane's Addiction's "Jane Says". They didn't necessarily own the stage and are more suited for a smaller venue but for those who did pay attention, the band seemed to go over well.

What's so particularly interesting about 23-year-old vocalist/songwriter Florence Welch is how much confidence she oozes both in her songwriting and as a live performer, and the latter was on display at the Kool Haus a week ago. Dressed in black short shorts and a sheer black top, at times wearing a black-rimmed hat which she later rested on her mic stand, and also at times draped with a veil-like shawl/cloak around her shoulders and or head, she at once oozed mysticism and sensuality. Similarly, her vocals ranged from a Kate Bush-like semi-ethereal quality to throaty blue-eyed[ok she has green eyes in reality] soul and such versatility kept the crowd engaged for a good 80 minutes. Keyboardist Isabella Summers provided enchanting background vocals. From my vantage point from the right side of the stage(facing the stage) it was hard to see and or pay attention to the rest of the band except to recall they were a tight outfit. Nevertheless, at the centre of attention was Ms. Florence Welch as she danced and swayed during most songs, as well as engaging the audience with heart-felt thank-you's and occasional humourous banter. While the setlist on paper seems a little paltry, it(including the encore) was in fact a satisfying 80-minute show, leaving some of the best songs for last. The main set ended on a delirious high note with the energetic "Dog Days Are Over" with Welch motivating the audience to jump up and down on cue during the song's energetic second half - my jumping up and down at shoes have been limited but during this song it just felt so good and so right. The encore featured the soulful "You've Got The Love" before Florence + The Machine ended the night with a stirring "Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)", again with Welch's encouragement towards audience participation for the crowd to raise their hands on cue when she'd pointed to different parts of the audience. Definitely one of the best shows of the year so far. Raise it up she did.

Photos: Florence + The Machine, Holy Hail @ Kool Haus, Toronto (April 10, 2010)
MySpace: Holy Hail
MySpace: Florence + The Machine

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