“I don’t really feel things by halves,” Florence Welch observed Wednesday. “I wish I could.”
Truer words were never spoken.
The flame-haired singer-songwriter, partway through her performance at American Airlines Center, summed up her heart-on-sleeve songs — and her full-tilt approach to performing them — in just 11 words, although anyone watching her twirl, reach for the rafters or race to the back of the room Wednesday would have figured it out easily enough.
Welch, the most prominent element of Florence + the Machine, which encompassed 10 people Wednesday — complete with harpist, trumpeter and trombonist — is touring behind last year’s How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, her third and latest studio album of surging, swelling, visceral songs about love and the damage it inflicts en route to blissful abandon.
Making her first DFW appearance in four years (following a pair of gigs four months apart), the 29-year-old Welch, barefoot, clad in a diaphanous dress and forever swiping her hair away from her eyes, stood on a stage that managed to evoke both the past and the future — the ‘70s-style bandstands constrasted with the shimmering, restless backdrop of what seemed to be large silver scales.
That retro feeling extends to the music on Beautiful as well, pivoting Welch and her bandmates away from the grand, baroque pop found on Lungs and Ceremonials (an immaculate album that was, sadly, poorly represented on Wednesday’s set list) toward a more pared back, soulful sound, incorporating gospel and folk shadings into songs like Delilah, which turned Welch into a miniature tornado, Queen of Peace or the gorgeous Ship to Wreck.
Welch’s quicksilver voice — an astonishing contralto that has the capacity to pin you to your seat — remains as arresting as ever, leaping into the heavens on Cosmic Love and conjuring apocalyptic abandon during Spectrum (or Dog Days Are Over, or Shake It Out, or ... )
The 95-minute set was a master’s class in arena-sized catharsis — Welch, at one point, implored the rabid fans along the barricade on the floor to be an ersatz choir — with the songs deftly building, piling anguish atop uncertainty until it all toppled over, releasing the tension in a glorious burst of uplift.
Like waves breaking upon the shore, that rhythm of hurt and healing served as a metronome of sorts, keeping time throughout the evening. (After all, if it was easy, simple comfort you were after, there was always the $85 blanket for sale at the merch table.)
If such a statement seems like hyperbole, it isn’t.
Just as Welch cannot give just some of herself, those in the audience have no choice but to throw themselves across the chasm, meeting Florence + the Machine’s wild, thrilling energy with a fearlessness that feels something like truth.
Speaking of bold choices, Grimes (aka Claire Boucher) was a particularly inspired, left-field selection to warm up the crowd, as Boucher’s jagged synthpop proved intoxicating. Her aggressively strange, exciting set — a riot of blinding lights, helium-pitched vocals, sternum-crushing bass and sticky-sweet melodies — was profoundly different than what is often glimpsed on stages of this size.
There, amid the smoke and glare, Grimes illuminated something altogether interesting and provocative (the cascading, thumping Genesis remains a knockout of a song) — a defiant declaration of self in a room that did not feel nearly big enough to contain her ambitions.