Florence and the Machine @ Hackney Empire

Florence and The Machine at Leeds Festival 2009 by Shirlaine Forrest
Florence and The Machine at Leeds Festival 2009 by Shirlaine Forrest

It's a comeback show that sold out in just one minute. Everyone watching on tonight knows they are the fortunate few to have a golden ticket to hear a preview of the most anticipated follow up album of the year.

How quickly this pop princess was crowned queen, with outlandish pomp and ceremony, all adorned upon her and her 2009 debut, and that acclaimed Glastonbury show. The flowing locks, flowing frocks and wild vocal warble felt at the time like Kate Bush reinventing the wheel.

Skip forward a year. Hackney Empire is full by nine o’clock, full of people, a few fortunate fans who got their hands on tickets, which sold out in just a minute, and a few industry, press and family ready, raring, for new Florence. It’s just hitting the peak of expectation when the red curtain is raised and Raquel Walsh is stood ready affront the stage. 

Tonight is much more about celebrating the future than accomplishments of the past, so the first half is almost exclusively built from forthcoming sophomore record ‘Ceremonials’. Opener ‘If Only For A Night’ has a tribal percussion unison that beats with the primal strain of Florence and the Machine’s (9/10) sound, but glints with a new pop grandeur and vocal harmony fellow diva Beyonce would revel in.

The new songs with the benefit of radio airplay under them get, predictably, the warmest response. ‘That’s What The Water Gave Me’ has a weightless quality, at once light then heavy again, it charms with the backing vocals and a thin eighties guitar tone. Nothing feels out of place with the new material, Walsh sounds like she’s consciously tried to circumnavigate the trappings of a pop career, to forage through her roots in more eccentric musical avenues, from Amos to Bush.

Forty minutes into the show and ‘Dog Days’ is the first sign of her debut ‘Lungs’, still packing a punch, its message of rejecting everything holding you back rings with a new defiance. ‘Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)’ is another anthemic musical colossus, privy to a new breakdown played through a piano part that tonight is all that’s necessary to set the crowd alight for the final chorus and refrain.

Appearing to come full circle Walsh introduces her original guitar sparring partner, Kid Harpoon, who was part of her musical discovery long before the Machine were on the scene. Playing a song off the new record they co-wrote together it’s a modest but clearly important cameo appearance for Walsh to initiate.

Under the warm, refurbished fittings of this grand concert hall, Florence and the Machine is enveloped in friendly company, supporters and family inclusive. Neglecting to play ‘You’ve Got The Love’ and ‘Kiss with a Fist’ is hardly a troubling move in this setting, but with the absence of out and out hit singles firing for her follow up you wonder if the crossover move will catch her up. Festival shows next summer will undoubtedly follow and to keep everyone in love with Florence, Walsh must hope people can join her on the journey and experiment in less traditional pop structure. On the strength of this one comeback performance it shouldn’t take much persuading.