Location: Orange Warsaw Festival 2018,Warsaw- Służewiec Horse Racetrack, Poland
Words: Dimitris Mavrokefalidis
Listening while writing:
It’s not that Florence Welch has a machine; rather, she is the machine.
It’s 11.50 am, and outside the rusty green door of the Orange Warsaw Festival 2018, approximately 180-200 boys and girls have gathered together, and now check the latest details of their glitter-coloured cheeks and stabilise the floral head wreaths. They wear black tees “Crew, Florence + The Machine, Poland”, tailor-made dresses that are identical to those Florence wears in “Hunger”’s video clip, improvised t-shirts with prints of their heroine, singing lyrics from “Various Storms & Saints” and “No Light, No Light and laughing innocently and rejoice so much that this moment will unite them forever.
Although it’s 33 °C (91.4 °F), everyone here is cheerful; some pull gold and silver isothermal blankets to cover their heads until the doors open. After all, all have to be on this mood till 9 pm when Florence + The Machine is expected to conquer the stage (after the Polish Taco Hemingway and Tyler The Creator). This is the # day2 of the Orange Warsaw Festival 2018 that is being held at at the Sluzewiec Racetrack, one of the largest and most beautiful racetracks on the planet, covering a total area of 342 acres It was opened in June 1939, leaving Varsovians without much time to enjoy the new track before World War II started. Luckily, the track did not suffer too much damage from the war because German soldiers were stationed there.
Many famous artists including U2, Depeche Mode, Sting, George Michael, and the Rolling Stones have performed on the same stage, on which in a few hours Florence’s bare feet will dance. At 1.45 and as all were standing in a long queue reaching up to a mile or so, a guard with an Indiana Jones hat, approached up using a loudspeaker to be heard. “We should all be very cautious, not to have accidents.” The door is pulled, making a sound of an old garage door, and when it is fully opened, dozens of boys and girls start running as they would run to escape from zombies in a post-apocalyptic landscape. Five or six boys and two boys fall into the ground.
For the minutes until the beginning of the concert, there is plenty to do for the crowd gathered for Florence + The Machine: putting on some make-up, reading favourite books, watching “Friends” episodes on mobile, even eating raw sausages. Someone holding a paper box walked through the crowd and started offering plastic flowers that have a paper switch which if turned on, illuminated the central part of the flower.
At 9 pm, and after thousands of people are shouting “Florence, Florence“, the first lyrics of “Between Two Lungs” are heard. This is the first song she ever wrote by herself and it was included in her debut album. She was still at art college, but her first guitarist had left and she wasn’t sure how she was going to be making music.
The title actually comes from an 80s pulp book she’d found in a second-hand shop. It became about a kiss – the air you share when you’re kissing someone. And the way it fills you up, and you don’t want the bubble to burst. And now watching her to colour each syllable, to emphasize each word, it feels like every single letter can be transformed into a short poem, and each pause in a lyrical attempt to touch the universe. In this way, she creates her own sky full of music that allows everyone to live under the sky, under a magical “Sky Full Of Song”. She plays with her hands and she swirls like an adolescent who is being offered a colourful candy.
This time, however, it is not a candy but the “Queen of Peace“. The bittersweet sentiment of the lyrics is reflected in her eyes in every spasm of her body, “some things never sleep”, and every single one who is watching her is made aware of it. Pure perfection, raw feeling that you feel like walking on a frozen lake. A twinge of ugliness and beauty in every harsh step. Florence compares her suffering in her relationship to the royal defeat told on the song. “Only If For A Night” brings the audience even closer to her. She proves that she knows better than anyone else that memories and emotions are best explained in shades and hues.
In an interview, Florence had described the song as being about her late grandmother who died when Florence was just 11. In a dream, Florence’s grandmother gave Florence practical advice regarding her career. “And although I was burning, you’re the only light”. On top of this, Welch’s childhood wasn’t easy, with her parents divorcing at age 11. She moved into her stepfather’s home shortly after, and at the age of 13 witnessed her bipolar grandmother commit suicide.
Watch our videos from the concert:
“We love you so much, You always make me feel so welcome here. This is a brand new song and it is a song I was always afraid to write, and the fact I thought that I shouldn’t put it on the album, then I felt that it was important to release it, even I had to go like this (closes her eyes with her hands ), but I have to say that all this love and support that has surrounded all this experience has given me so much faith and hope…” she says. With the first note in the melody of the song, the audience burst into applause. “Hunger” will always remind everyone, but more to her, that it was never meant to be a song. It was a poem, written in an effort to understand the ways she looked for love in things that were not love at all. Instantly, a choir of thousands of people is being created, singing it higher than the heart, louder than the loneliness. In “Sweet Nothing” she looks like a muse of the best Renaissance painter. “If there is someone next to you who care about them lift them up, on your shoulders, give your friends a rest, you can take it in terms, you all need a break, there seems to be a lot of good friends in the audience”. Next, it’s the song, the title of which comes from an art piece by Ugo Rondinone. The song is inspired by a giant text instalment titled “Dog Days Are Over” of the artist which Florence used to watch every day while crossing Waterloo Bridge with her bike.
“Now, I wanna do something very special. I m gonna need you to have both hands free so that everyone put their phones away. The moment is going to disappear, and we are going to allow it to disappear”. Harp strings gently buffet Florence’s fluttery vocals as she describes how “happiness hit her like a train on a track/Coming towards her, stuck still, no turning back”, before a swell of drum beats and handclaps lift the song to its exultant chorus. Florence urgently proclaims, “Leave all your love and your longing behind/You can’t carry it with you if you want to survive” and for an exquisite moment it feels as though any heartbreak could be so easily surmounted. “I wanna everybody to embrace each other, tell each other that you love each other, tell a stranger that you love them”. And this is the moment when Florence has almost created the ultimate chaos to sink everyone in it. For a few minutes. About 15,000 people are embracing each other. It is this very moment when you can hear the heartbeats of your heart. Next one is the last track from the album “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful”. The lyrics “Can you protect me from what I want?” never sounded as frankly and believable as it does coming of Welch’s mouth. As if she keeps walking down the footbridge of Chapter 7 of “Odyssey” and singing lyrics, letting her body fall impetuously on the wires: “Mother make me a big grey cloud so I can rain on you things I can’t say out loud”.
People are shouting “I Love You” and a few seconds later, she says “this is a song from” “High As Hope” “that I also like the title because it sounds like” High As Fuck “which is an English saying. But this song is about a woman who is so close to my heart, and I am way too shy to tell her about it so nobody here tells her” she says with half smile. It was written for Patti Smith who is so admired. Everyone is singing “It’s such a wonderful thing to love” and it does not sound hyperbolic, but when singing “Patricia,” you feel the bare toes of her feet on the stage have come to the brink of a personal extinction. As if she’s on the verge of melting.
It’s time for one of the band’s most popular songs. On the led screen of the stage there is an irregularly handwritten with red paint “you will always be my favourite” and it is time to come down from the stage and touch the audience who scream out her name. They embrace her, offering her wreaths and … “Sometimes I feel like throwing my hands up in the air, ’cause I know I can count on you.” It seems as if she cannot catch a bottle of water without turning around herself and stretching her hands toward the sky and the public. She has admitted in an interview, “I was always that girl growing up who you could find dancing down supermarket aisles. It’s that sense of not feeling inhibited. Dancing in supermarkets is my favourite thing…it’s such a strange place because no one will look at you. Everything has such order and everyone is so focused on doing what they’re doing that no one ever pays attention to you spinning and dancing around supermarkets”.
For the next song that comes from the long-awaited new album she says “love must always be expressed in absolute honesty“. It’s time for the “100 Years” time.”Ship To Wreck” and its applause indicates that she did very well and insisted on being included in the album “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful” despite the fact that Markus Dravs, her producer told her not to write any more songs about water which was the dominant image in the band’s previous album “Ceremonials“.
In “Delilah“, you see that her ability to run up the stage while singing the higher notes seems to be outside human scope. The song that was written for the time she spent in Miami after a hard night full of drink and pills and anxious wait as Welch anticipated a call from her boyfriend that never arrived. This offers her a chance to go back at the crowd who offer her a scarf that she waves it as she is running to touch as many people as possible. “Too fast for freedom, sometimes they all fall down, these chains never leave, I keep dragging them around.”
It is nearly impossible that the sob that her voice hides in the first verse “I was on a heavy tip” of “What Kind Of Man” does not affect you. She pushes the microphone against her in “let me dangle at a cruel angle.” And she closes the gig with it.
The audience shout out her name. «One more song, one more song». After two minutes she emerges from the backstage and starts singing the first single from “Ceremonials“, “Shake It Out“. Yes, it’s catharsis‘ turn. Written during an awful hangover underlines “… but it’s always darkest before the dawn …“. The explosion has preceded because she knows that this is how the world ends most of the time: not with a spectacular explosion, but with a sob. Surely, if someone has never seen Florence Welch in a concert, then he certainly has not come to appreciate to the fullest extend Botticelli’s “Spring“, has never felt the Selma’s dance and movements in “Dancer in the Dark“, has never had dreams like Guido in Fellini’s “8 1/2“. Maybe because a common denominator in all the above is a girl who has forgotten to grow up. She keeps on singing tracks that sometimes function as cathartic exorcisms, small odysseys whose start, middle and end have the mind and the heart. Mrs. Welch can certainly make life more bearable. It may not be necessary for everyone to be the greatest story that has ever been told, but this is the most beautiful fairytale that one can hear.
At the end of the day, the experience of being in Florence + The Machine’s concert may be compared to this redeeming feeling that floods you when you reach the edge of the things you define, at the last possible limit you can touch. When you are on the edge shouting all that you are afraid to admit even to yourself. That – no, (contrary to what friends, family say to you) life does not go on.
That you were, you are and you will be in love with the particular person, the one you have found, although you are not together now, that you have nothing to win if you do not lose everything first, that you have nothing to catch and nowhere to go, if at first you do not walk alone in an unfamiliar country with people around you speaking a language strange to you, that your current job does not offer you anything beyond a number in your bank account that true happiness is not found in the circumstances of your present life, but in the one to come. And happiness will come when you chase it, when you fight for it, and let it kill you. And then because “The horses are coming so you better run ...” as Flo says.
- Between Two Lungs
- Queen Of Peace
- Only If For A Night
- Sweet Nothing
- Dog Days Are Over
- You’ve Got The Love
- 100 Years
- Ship To Wreck
- What Kind Of Man
- Shake It Out
Photos / Videos: amusicmap.com