The word “lit,” in all its simplicity and colloquial modernity, isn’t one that would often (if ever) be used to describe the Walt Disney Concert Hall. That is, until Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine breathed (and shouted and danced) new life into the Frank Gehry-designed fixture of undulating hillscape in downtown Los Angeles. With their new album, High as Hope, set to drop on June 29th and a stadium gig in London supporting The Rolling Stones coming up on May 25th, the band opted here for an intimate setting that most often serves as a home for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and its relatively tame patronage.
Given both the tenor and subject matter of Florence and the Machine’s upcoming LP, the Disney Hall was an appropriate place to warm up for a trip across the pond. The band’s new songs—from “June” to “Patricia” to the single “Hunger”—take on a decidedly more determined tone, which, during a pre-show listening party in the Founders Room, Florence attributed to both having “lived through the last two years” in a political sense and having spent six months “banging on a piano” largely by herself in South London, far from the artist enclave of Los Angeles.
The City of Angels, though, has its own role to play on the record. In “Sky Full of Song”, Welch describes “a city without seasons” while wondering why “it keeps raining in L.A.” With her infectious, irrepressible energy on stage, Florence may well have been the one responsible for shifting those weather patterns. Her powers of positive persuasion were on full display in the Disney Hall’s typically staid inner sanctum, only if for a night.
“The same flowers all the way through,” Welch remarked, nodding to her heavily floral stage design, “but less drunkenness and less glitter.” Despite a supposedly toned-down dress and demeanor, Welch pranced barefoot around the room and, at times, through the crowd, across tunes fresh and familiar. From beloved hits like “Dog Days Are Over”, “Cosmic Love”, “Ship to Wreck”, “What Kind of Man”, and “Shake it Out” to slightly deeper cuts like “Delilah” and “Falling”, she leapt and pirouetted as she pleased, her shimmering beige dress matching her pale complexion, her fiery red hair blending with her wood-stained surroundings.
She was (and often) is a Ginger Jesus joyfully sharing her gospel with an eager choir. The audience needed no prodding getting to (or remaining on) its feet, let alone jumping up and down and clapping to an interpolated beat. Those in attendance reflected and amplified Welch’s enthusiasm, both physical and emotional, as much as the walls of the hall did her voice. And there, too, she gave her all. She touched hands and rubbed heads with fans in the front row before ultimately dancing alongside them. She climbed up to the section behind the stage to stand with those who could not otherwise be seen by her—albeit while evoking memories of her falling off stage and breaking her leg at Coachella in 2015. If the West Coast’s most famed festival stages and the outdoor majesty of the Hollywood Bowl couldn’t contain Florence, what hope did the Disney Hall have?
Not that anyone would’ve wanted Welch to sit still. It wouldn’t be right for her to sit and stew on stage, even if the events of the world around her might nudge her that way. For all the charisma and command that would define Florence as a modern-day rock diva, her refined talents as a passionate singer-songwriter and physical entertainer confer her with the ability to make any and every venue her own—and incorporate each audience member into her marvelous Machine of humanity.