Florence + the Machine’s Epic Hollywood Bowl Finale That Almost Wasn’t
Florence + the Machine played the 23rd and final show of the North American leg of their Dance Fever tour at the iconic Hollywood Bowl on Saturday night. The band was in top form as always and the thrilling experience of seeing them live was elevated by a wild night marked by a power outage and weather disruptions.
The “Dance Fever” Tour
On May 13, 2022, Florence + the Machine released their fifth studio album Dance Fever. The album received rapturous critical acclaim (it currently has a rating of 84 out of 100 on MetaCritic, reflecting universal critical acclaim). The album debuted at #1 in the UK and at #7 in the U.S. and was beloved by the band’s large and passionate fanbase, whose responds to the band’s prior album High As Hope (2018) was a bit more subdued.
Despite their hit potential, none of the album’s three singles — “King,” “My Love,” or “Free” — became particularly big chart successes either in the U.S. or abroad. However, Florence + the Machine has never been an act known for chart-dominating singles. Rather, their primary claims to fame are the passionate devotion the band’s extraordinarily talented lead singer and head songwriter Florence Welch commands from her fans and the band’s penchant for breathtaking and frenetic live performances.
Naturally, the album was supported by a world tour — the aptly titled “Dance Fever Tour.” It marked the band’s first time going on tour since they played their 93rd and final show of “The High as Hope Tour” in Athens, Greece in September 2019. “The Dance Fever Tour” was hotly anticipated in part because the band is such a well-regarded live act and they were coming off their longest-ever hiatus from touring. But many (including me) were particularly excited for the tour given the reason for their touring hiatus — the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Dance Fever album is an epic, genre-blending masterpiece filled with tracks that rank among the very best in the band’s discography. But it’s also one of the most fascinating, nuanced, and moving reflections on the pandemic I have encountered yet. Songs like “Girls Against God” and “My Love” vividly and heartbreakingly evoke the futile raged and displaced emotions caused by isolation. “Choreomania” and “Free” are ebullient, frenzied odes to the healing power of dance. “Daffodil” and “Cassandra” are about trying to find beauty in a broken, ailing world. And the album-capping “Morning Elvis” is about Florence’s journey to return to her true home — the stage.
Like many fans, I was fascinated to see how an album about the pain of the pandemic and the healing power of coming together in song and dance would be brought to life for the tour.
After playing 13 shows at small venues and festivals across the United States and Europe, “The Dance Fever Tour” kicked off in earnest on September 2nd in Laval, Canada. The band played a total of 23 shows in North America over the course of the next 6 weeks, wrapping up with a two-night stint at the iconic Hollywood Bowl on October 14 and 15.
And I was lucky enough to be there for the final show.
Review of the 10/15/22 Show at The Hollywood Bowl
I had seen Florence + the Machine live once before. It was back in 2018 and I scored a ticket on the secondary market to a promotional show they were doing for their fourth album High As Hope at the iconic and intimate Walt Disney Concert Hall in Downtown Los Angeles. It was easily one of the best live shows I have ever seen and I found myself eager to see how the band played a significantly larger venue as part of a sprawling tour.
The weather on the day of the concert was certainly befitting of a band whose aesthetic evokes the haunting and elegant English moors. It was an atypically cloudy and damp day, where the threat of rain was constant. But despite the fact that Southern Californians become completely unable to function when precipitation is present, shows at the Hollywood Bowl goes on “rain or shine,” so we made our way to the venue.
We missed Wet Leg (the first opening act) as we sat sipping wine outside on the terrace, but we made our way to our seats by the time Hope Tala (the second opening act) took the stage. And I am certainly glad we did, because she was delightful. The 24-year-old British singer-songwriter impressed the audience with her seemingly effortless blend of bossa nova, R&B, and soul. She delivered clear and strong vocals over terrific beats. Her performance exemplified one of the many great things about attending a Florence + the Machine concert — their careful selection of talented up-and-coming artists to open for them.
After Hope Tala left the stage, however, there was an atypically long wait. It was after 9pm and still the band had not taken the stage. Then, an announcement bellowed through the Bowl telling the audience that there was a power outage affecting the whole Hollywood Bowl and its surroundings. Naturally, this led the previously calm audience to do the opposite of instructions and become alarmed. Although generator-powered lights illuminated the audience, the power outage was evident by the dark stage, blank jumbo screens, and pitch black restaurants and restrooms.
After about 15–20 minutes of tension among the capacity crowd of over 17,000 people, the lights flickered and the jumbo screens started to boot up. Let’s just say that I have never been so happy to see the Microsoft Windows login in my life. After a few more minutes, the band took their spots, the stage illuminated, and Florence emerged.
There was only one problem — The Hollywood Bowl has a strict 11pm curfew and the band’s show runs close to two hours. So how were they going to pare it down? The audience could sense the confusion and uncertainty in Florence Welch’s voice as she greeted the audience after the opening song and said, “For a minute there, I wasn’t sure if this was going to happen.” But as the true professional she is, she tore flawlessly through the opening set of songs.
With her flaming locks and glittering, medieval-style dress flowing, she stomped and growled her way through the experimental “Heaven Is Here” from Dance Fever, before performing a quartet of high-octane, uptempo songs — “King,” “Ship to Wreck,” “Free,” and “Daffodil.” The audience was enraptured but they didn’t truly explode into a frenzy until the sixth song, the band’s signature track “Dog Days Are Over.” Not only is it perhaps their most recognizable song, but it also has an infectious beat and lyrics that beg you to sing along. Florence paused the song for an extended period to talk to the audience. She spoke about how thrilled she was that the show went on despite the power outage, how excited she was to be back on tour after the pandemic, and about how we should all put our phones away and appreciate that after the long period of lockdown we are finally able to be with one another again in the flesh. She thanked the people who were coming to see them for the first time and those returning to see them, before sending a tongue-in-cheek message to those who were “dragged along” and found themselves in the midst of some sort of “English pagan dance cult”: “It works much better if you just go with it.”
She then entered a six-song stretch that had markedly varied tempos as she alternated between the high-energy “Dream Girl Evil” and “What Kind of Man,” the mid-tempo “Girls Against God” and “Big God,” and the ballads “June” and “Morning Elvis.” This was the portion of the set where the audience was relatively less engaged, but what was occurring on stage was nevertheless flawlessly executed.
At one point, Florence abruptly paused the show and said, “I have just been told that I cannot dance and I want to see what’s going on.” She then stormed back stage. Apparently, Hollywood Bowl security told her that due to the light rain that had started to fall it was not safe to do her usual antics of dancing along the side of the stage or running out into the crowd. The ever-defiant Florence proceeded to leave the stage and frantically dance along the rim of the standing room-only pit directly in front of the stage before returning to the main stage and coyly uttering, “Oops, I slipped.”
During the set’s 13th song, “Choreomania,” she shocked the audience by sprinting from the stage and running up dozens and dozens of steps to the bleacher seats where she proceeded to leap upon the control booth and dance frantically in the rain. In a stroke of amazing luck, we happened to be seated directly next to the control booth and for a few all-too-brief moments were able to experience her power and charisma from only a few feet away. It was a live music moment that I will never forget. (My husband won’t forget it, either. He is still talking about her majestic footwork.)
Florence then returned to the stage for a trio of familiar uptempo crowd pleasers — “Kiss With a Fist,” “Cosmic Love,” and “My Love.” She then exited before returning for an encore in which she performed the haunting and elegiac “Never Let Me Go” before tearing into an electrifying rendition of “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up).”
I completely understand that due to the power outage and the local noise ordinance, the band could not do a full set. In fact, I was ecstatic that they still managed to play 18 full songs. However, I was somewhat disappointed when I later discovered what songs they cut from the show — Dance Fever standout “Cassandra,” High as Hope classic “Hunger,” and (arguably) the band’s second most popular song “Shake It Out” (from Ceremonials). It’s hard to comprehend why these three thrilling audience favorites were selected as the numbers to be cut, but it seems beyond petty to complain when each of the 18 songs they did play were perfection.
Despite the hiccups, it was a masterfully executed and utterly captivating 90 minutes with some of the most talented musicians in the game. Interestingly, although the night fell short of perfection, I suspect it was even more exciting to see Florence roll with the punches and adapt the show as it unfolded than it would have been to see it go off without a hitch.
Following a one-month hiatus, Florence + the Machine will tour Europe and then proceed to Oceania before capping the tour with several festival performances in Summer 2023. Then hopefully after a nice, long rest they will get to work on their sixth album. I know I will be on the edge of my seat waiting.
Setlist for 10/15/22 at The Hollywood Bowl
- Heaven is Here (Dance Fever)
- King (Dance Fever)
- Ship to Wreck (How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful)
- Free (Dance Fever)
- Daffodil (Dance Fever)
- Dog Days Are Over (Lungs)
- Girls Against God (Dance Fever)
- Dream Girl Evil/Prayer Factory (Dance Fever)
- Big God (High As Hope)
- What Kind of Man (How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful)
- Morning Elvis (Dance Fever)
- June (High as Hope)
- Choreomania (Dance Fever)
- Kiss With a Fist (Lungs)
- Cosmic Love (Lungs)
- My Love/Restraint (Dance Fever)
- Never Let Me Go (Ceremonials)
- Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up) (Ceremonials)
Omitted from setlist due to time constraints: Cassandra (Dance Fever), Hunger (High as Hope), and Shake It Out (Ceremonials)
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