Florence and the Machine: Spiritual Sisterhood

Florence and the Machine
The Fox Theater
Oakland, CA
November 5, 2010

Florence and the Machine: Spiritual Sisterhood

It is difficult to review the performance of Florence and the Machine at the Fox Theater without discussing Florence's solemn efforts at female spiritual empowerment. And that poses all kinds of minefields to navigate. It should be noted at the onset that F&TM have released one album so it is not really fair to generalize and categorize but I will anyway.

In the world of women rockers, there are at least four very clear camps: The Rockers, including Joan Jett, Chrissie Hynde, Courtney Love, the Minks; there are the Joni's: named after Joni Mitchell (the matron saint), including Rickie Lee Jones, Beth Orton, Jewel, Shawn Colvin; another is the Madonnas, including the material girl, Lady Gaga, Shakira, Britney Spears and then there is the the Spiritual Sisterhood, including Sarah McLachlan, Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Stevie Nicks. If I had some good tech support, I would create a Venn diagram. While overlapping some of these other groups, Florence is very much in the Spiritual Sisterhood circle.

Florence took the stage Friday night wearing an all white flowing dress behind a mic-stand covered with vines and flowers, a kind of purified homage to Stevie Nicks' spiritual gypsy of the 1970s and 80s. With her flowing red hair and thin frame, Florence looked like an angelic sprite. At times she looked so ethereal, I almost expected she would melt into the bright white lights and just float away into the stratosphere.

As for the aforementioned minefield: I guess part of the problem for me with the Spiritual Sisterhood is that I feel excluded, much like heavy metal bands tend to exclude women fans (though they may desperately want them). Frankly, I feel a little uncomfortable seeing either. Though I really liked Florence, I felt like a bit of an interloper at times. And though I enjoy the thunder of power chords at an occasional heavy metal concert, I miss the female presence. It's too much of a locker room and smells like one too.

There is no question that Florence is a talent to watch. She can really sing. In fact, she sang so well, I suspected that she might be using backing vocal tracks. Although her recorded songs are creative and varied, they did tend to blend together in the live performance. A couple smaller complaints: the Machine was kept in the dark for much of the show. Even if Florence is The Artist, I prefer performers who give their bandmates more props. Also, Florence's performance was all rather dramatic, it almost bordered on the severe at times. The great enthusiasm of the audience saved the night from becoming too much of everything and made the evening quite fun, but a little bit of humor from Florence from time to time would do her well.

The Highlights: Drumming Song (the opening number), You've Got the Love, Dog Days Are Over.

Other impressions:

Joe: "Estrogen dripping walls of wailing."

Brian: "I was a little disappointed to be truthful. The eerie, undecipherable warblings started to really bug me by the end. For me, she got too into her atmospherics and lost sight of her biggest strength: crisp, commanding voice. That said, I was entertained and enjoyed the energy of the show. Lauri absolutely love it."

Ben: "Vagipalooza. I was impressed by the Fox as a venue. Good sound mixing and great lighting."

First two photos by award-winning photographer Joseph Santel


Valtoid said...

Fabulous review. Captured the spirit and essence of the evening.

I would add (in the vein of getting too carried away with the moment) that Flo had a bit of a "Carrie" moment on stage and I was expecting a bucket of blood to be dumped all over her.

Anonymous said...

Mad fun all around. IMHO, if she’d come out of the box with ‘Hurricane Drunk’, [in my mind one of the great vocals of the last few years] or ‘Kiss With a Fist’, we’d be less focused on the indeed dreamy Enya-esque aesthetics and the quick jump to ‘female spiritual empowerment’ (?) just because there was a lot of
va-gee-gee in the house. It’s November so I can, without shame, direct everyone in addition to the tracks above, to her gorgeous version of ‘Last Christmas’. Between them and the stunning instrumentals by “The Machine” on “You Got the Love” it’s a crime to put her in the ballpark of Kate Bush. [Maybe Sia; Beth Gibbons (Portishead); or Oona, Tracy Thorn even]. Agree she’s far better in her London studio than on stage. It all started to sound the same, but it’s not. PS Love your site.