By Olivia Isenhart
In a week so fraught with tragedy and fear, the sight of the rainbow LGBT flag soaring in the spotlight seemed to tie the Brooklyn crowd together into a tighter embrace last night at New York’s Barclays Center. Tens of thousands in the capacity audience let out an invigorating cheer as Florence Welch gripped the fabric tightly with tears in her eyes during the first of her two nights at the venue. Brooklyn, like the rest of the world days after the horrific Orlando shooting, was in need of something powerful; some kind of healing. And last night, Florence + the Machine seemed intent on providing it.
Of course, there are many ways to cope. If dancing it out under a laser light-show is a form of release, then the healing began well before Florence hit the stage. When support act Grimes burst onto the smokey stage, she lit up the room like her own pyrotechnician; her stage presence a mixture of rebellious howls and technicolor squeals.
As her impressive backup dancers slammed their bodies to the wild, Euro-style pop, the experimental and critically lauded artist was busy layering tracks, headbanging behind the synth, and switching to guitar whenever she pleased. But Grimes was never too absorbed into her instruments to neglect her responsibility as a frontwmoan: she often jumped to the front of the stage and showed off her high-register vocals. Some have described Grimes’ vocals as an “acquired taste,” but clearly everyone at Barclays had long ago acquired it. Fans responded to untamed favorites like “Venus Fly,” “World Princess, Pt. II” and “Kill V. Maim.”
And then it was time for the main event: the Machine was accompanied by a 3-piece brass section, backing singers and a harpist, was rewarded with a huge swell of applause as they filed in onto the stage. When Florence danced out happily to join the band she was met by deafening screams; she seemed to be floating on air. Her powerful voice, which sparkled on opening song “What The Water Gave Me,” was met by rapturous cheers from the audience.
The free-spirited singer’s translucent purple gown glided behind her as she sprinted the stage with bare feet and an unshakable smile; tambourine in one hand, peace sign in the other. Watching her perform, one might have thought that she just escaped from a music box, as she twirled in dainty circle, and as she leaned down gracefully to catch a bouquet of roses. During high-energy hits like “Ship To Wreck,” “Rabbit Heart,” “Shake It Out,” and even a cover of Calvin Harris’ “Sweet Nothing,” Florence ran laps around the stage to get some “face time” with all corners of the room; it was impossible not to have fun with her.
In the moment she proudly raised the LGBT flag, it was a powerful symbol in the context of recent events. When she sang, “Say my name, as every color illuminates,” during “Spectrum,” it was more than an emotional highlight; it was the cathartic moment that the audience needed. “We are shining, and we will never be afraid again.”
“Love is love is love is love!” she shouted (perhaps echoing Lin Manuel Miranda’s TONYs acceptance speech), repeating it again for emphasis as tears grazed her cheeks and cheers swallowed her up. Just before Florence + the Machine gave us “Dog Days Are Over,” she had one final request that rang out into the night. “The love you have now, take it out there with you!”