They say that lightning doesn’t strike twice, but that clearly isn’t the case for Scunthorpe’s Baths Hall. Just last year they played host to Arcade Fire, an event that had fans doing a double take in shock when it was announced. The Canadian indie rockers must have spread the word about what an amazing night it was, as their good friend Florence Welch decided to stop there too. In much of a similar vein, the gig was billed as an intimate get-together for the band to warm up and give songs from the new album a road test before its release. I was lucky enought to grab a place at the front for a gig experience among the best you could ever hope for.
Sadly there was one thing tarnishing an otherwise perfect evening: the opening act. Shock Machine felt rather out-of-place at best, and at their worst were frankly cringeworthy. Most of the songs relied far too heavily on a backing track, and the white suited frontman’s onstage antics did not seem at all genuine, more like a poor manufactured copy of Alex Turner. Musically they imbued their contemporary indie sound with hints of Hunky Dory era Bowie, and while I can certainly dig the approach they were going for, the execution left a lot to be desired. With Florence playing only a short set, I’m sure I’m not the only one left thinking that a support band was wholly unnecessary at this particular gig.
Naturally the main event was astounding, although it felt very different to when I’d seen her previously. Seeing her captivating a packed out arena was like a religious experience, but this was something much more tangible and real. Early on in the night when a fan passed her a flower it felt like such a wholesome and personal encounter, whereas in a larger venue you could easily miss that moment and feel like she could just conjure up flowers to bloom at will. Part of the atmosphere was certainly down to the setting, the fact that it was an intimate gig in an unlikely locale with one of this century’s biggest stars mere metres away. However the more confessional and heartfelt nature of her new material also had a big part to play.
Alongside all the hits and a few deep cuts, were a selection of songs offering a taste of Florence’s forthcoming album High As Hope, announced just a few days prior. The record’s anthemic new single ‘Hunger’ began with an uncharacteristically shy and humble introduction thanking the fans for all their years of support and the love they’ve thus far shown the new track, before launching into a simply electrifying performance. ‘Patricia’, penned to show her appreciation for Patti Smith, offered a far more stripped back arrangement which felt all the more striking following ‘Mother’, one of the most powerful tracks from her previous record. ‘100 Years’ also began with a more subdued tone, but soon launched into a primal and mystical stomp that is sure to be a highlight of coming tours and makes me look forward to the new record even more to hear the full studio version.
Closing with a string of hits from How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, followed by an encore of ‘Shake It Out’, Florence + the Machine’s short but spectacular set left The Baths Hall feeling blessed and awestruck at such a special performance. Seeing such a singular figure in so small a venue felt like a goddess appearing from some enchanted glade and choosing to spend the night as a mortal. The result of this astounding encounter was a gig that will surely be hard to top for all those lucky enough to witness it.