English folk-rock trio The Staves have the somewhat daunting task of opening tonight's’ show and they begin their set by performing to a venue that, as yet, isn’t even half full. Nevertheless, they start by showcasing their vocal abilities as they harmonise almost flawlessly with one another during "Wisely & Slow". Such harmonies are littered throughout their eleven song set, although they are badly affected during "Steady" as a result of the overpowering instrumentation which accompanies them. The stand-out number is without question ‘"Blood I Bled"; the stage lighting and strong vocal performances coming together to produce something that lingers long after it ends. Sadly, "Make It Holy" doesn’t fare as well, but they close out their time on stage well with a trio of good performances; "Horizons", "Winter Trees" and "Teeth White", which earn them a strong round of applause from the gradually growing crowd as they exit.
After breaking her foot at Coachella back in April and then being upgraded to Glastonbury head-liners as a result of Foo Fighters’ front-man Dave Grohl breaking his leg, it’s been a bit of an up and down year so far for Florence and The Machine.
However, there’s soon no mistaking which way tonight is going to go. From the moment the band and backing singers make their way on stage, the noise level within the arena rises, before, dressed in long white trousers and a mustard colour top, Florence herself makes her first appearance by the front row, taking from a fan before her a sign which reads ‘Manchester ‘Heart’ Florence & The Machine’ and holding it up gleefully for everyone to see.
Beginning with "What The Water Gave Me" which as it plays out builds into what can only be described as a bombastic, party-tastic, ultimately enlightening performance, the set starts, as fans soon find out, as it means to go on – with energy, passion and unmistakable and undeniable enjoyment.
On more than one occasion has Florence been compared to Stevie Nicks and tonight it’s easy to see why as she pirouettes from one side of the stage to another (quite how she doesn’t get dizzy or fall off/over I don’t know) during "Ship To Wreck" which offers up a superb demonstration of the hugely impressive range she has.
With her backing singers and band taking up a lot of space, she admits she’d have loved to have a choir with her, but instead, she asks the thousands in attendance to fill in – something which they then proceed to do with reckless abandon throughout "Shake It Off."
Leaving the stage for the majority of "Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)", she proceeds to no doubt be the cause of many security guard nightmares as she races up the side of the arena before coming to a halt in block 110 at the very back, where she belts out a few bars before returning, at a sprint, to the stage while the smile on her face as she’s practically chased by the security man behind her never fades.
The much-loved cover of "You Got The Love" by The Source follows soon after, and starts off almost acapella – not that it stays that way for long – before it instantaneously becomes the crowd-jumping/dancing classic we all know it to be and the masses in attendance certainly love it as the packed floor, and the majority of those in the seats, throw their hands up and bounce around as if on pogo sticks.
Very few bands or artists (okay, none that I can think of) bring a harp into live proceedings, but Florence has never been one to follow convention. Instead, the inclusion of the classical instrument on "Cosmic Love" gives both the band and everyone present a few moments respite as Florence performs the number, the stripped back instrumentation giving her vocal prowess a real chance to shine – it’s hard not to be captivated by just how much of a beautiful, melodic and strong voice she has.
Under Florence’s instruction, the arena then becomes a mass of swirling, removed clothing. She calls out for everyone to turn to someone next to them, give them a hug and hold their clothing up – I never thought I’d see a mass of semi-naked individuals at a gig - but that’s exactly what the eyes of those present tonight are witness to. It shouldn’t work, and were anyone else asking people to do it, it really wouldn’t, but there’s something about Florence and notably "Dog Days Are Over" that all but calls for it to happen –and happen it does, with somewhat astounding results.
Exiting the stage for a few minutes, the band return to huge cheers for a two song encore. "What Kind Of Man" has a thrilling guitar introduction but it’s closer "Drumming Song" that ends things on a ridiculously high note – fans everywhere lose themselves in the music, arms up in the air, grins semi-plastered on their faces, and as the lights go down for the final time with Florence bidding everyone goodnight, the cacophony of cheers and whistles last long after she’s disappeared from view.
On the back of tonight, Florence and The Machine’s star can only rise and their performance tonight duly earns them the title of my favourite gig of the year (so far at least). Quite how any band will top what I’ve seen tonight I don’t know, but they can certainly have fun trying.