It’s been a long time since Florence Welch played a venue this small, the singer being more at home in leviathan arenas and on festival main stages than the relative compactness of St John at Hackney. The show comes as part of War Child UK’s Passport to the Brits, a series of concerts that has brought big names to small settings. Tickets were made available via donation and subsequent prize draw. A stirring introduction from War Child CEO Rob Williams expounds upon just what these donations can do for the most vulnerable victims of conflict.
Given the exuberance and theatricality that have become the calling cards of Florence and The Machine live shows, it is difficult to imagine how the band would approach playing in a fairly Spartan interior. However, The Machine has all but powered-down in favour of an acoustic line-up of piano, harp, trumpet and minimal percussion. Yet Welch’s vocals on the opening few numbers (‘Cosmic Love’, ‘St Jude’ and ‘Drumming Song’, all played sans drums) already threaten to rattle the stained-glass windowpanes. Following a galloping performance of ‘Queen of Peace’, Welch confesses she’s more nervous of small shows because she “used to be a lot drunker” when she originally played them. A voice in the crowd immediately offers to get her a shot.
A winsome cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Silver Springs’ comes as a delightful surprise, and one that superfan Welch seems to be enjoying even more than the crowd. Equally surprising is a rendition of Calvin Harris collaboration ‘Sweet Nothing’, pushed a world away from the kitschy pop-house of the original and made into some real Nicks-worthy balladry.
Welch opts to go out on a high, with ‘Shake It Out’ and ‘Dog Days Are Over’ rousing the rabble into a swarming mass of rapturous singalongs and rhythmic clapping. It is one thing for a musician to sell-out a 20,000-capacity arena, but quite another to make the jump back to snugger surroundings without sacrificing the galvanising energy of the large-scale extravaganza. Even the most recalcitrant detractors of Welch’s music would find it a challenge to call this performance anything but impressive.
Florence and the Machine played at St John at Hackney Church on 26 February.