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Florence Welch Found Strength in Vulnerability at American Airlines Arena

About halfway through her set at American Airlines Arena Sunday night, Florence Welch, frontwoman of the beloved band Florence + the Machine, made a simple request of the audience.

She was in the middle of singing “Dog Days Are Over,” one of her oldest and most popular songs, and the crowd was going crazy for it. Welch paused the song and asked everyone to turn to the people next to them and embrace one another — even strangers — and tell them that they love them.

Then she asked for something else: “You’re not gonna like it — it’s going to make you feel weird and vulnerable,” she said. “Do you trust me?”

What she wanted was for everyone to put their cell phones away and be in the moment with her, to reach their arms up and send positive energy skyward. “Is everybody free?” she asked a few moments later as people tucked their phones into bags or pockets. As the music started up again, she ran joyfully and with abandon across the stage, barefoot, letting her long hair fly.

That reminder to stay in the moment, to let down our walls without seeing it as a weakness, and to run toward instead away from big emotions such as love, were themes of the night. As she does in her music, Welch took vulnerability and found the strength and catharsis in it, encouraging her fans to feel that rush and release along with her.

It was a little after 9 p.m., the wooden set bathed in the glow of an orangy-pink light, when the band first took the stage with its mix of guitar, keyboard, percussion, violin, and harp. Welch — in a long dress that caught the light and looked almost translucent, with lace floating around her ankles — walked to the microphone. The singer looked like she had stepped out of an enchanted forest or a storybook. In her ethereal, flowing dresses, with her signature red hair, she could be a forest nymph or fairy queen, and when she spoke, she sounded angelic. She moved with the grace and purposefulness of a ballet dancer and the free-spiritedness of a flower child.

When she sang, though, a ferocity and incredible inner strength came roaring to the surface. Welch has a powerful voice that can handle the high, haunting notes and belt the long, loud ones. As she jumped up and down or twirled onstage, it was as though she had physically embodied the music, beaming it out to every corner of the arena.

Welch has tackled difficult and personal subjects in her music before, but 2018's High as Hope, her fourth studio album, feels particularly raw and honest. That sense of confiding in her audience pervaded the concert. Throughout the night, the band made the large arena feel cozy and intimate. They opened with two tracks from the new album: In the first song, “June,” the repeated line “Hold onto each other” set the tone for what was to come later. Then came “Hunger,” a song referencing the eating disorder Welch endured as a teenager, and the soaring “Ship to Wreck,” with its images of drunken self-destruction and navigating choppy seas.

Another personal moment came when Welch sang “Patricia,” the song inspired by her hero, Patti Smith. In light of the recent string of anti-abortion bills passing across the United States, the English musician used it to reach out to the women in the crowd, telling them, “From the bottom of my heart, I am with you, and you deserve so much better than this,” and encouraging anyone in need to speak with representatives from the ACLU who were there in the arena. She noted a reference to toxic masculinity in the song and then added, “But it must be said, there’s not a lot of toxic masculinity at a Florence + the Machine show! If you’re here with us, you must really believe, trust, and support women.”

There were no major set or costume changes — only the band and Welch, and for some songs a backdrop that looked like a wide-open sky full of stars. Throughout the show, Welch expressed gratitude for her fans and the community they’ve built around the band’s performances. When she sang “Delilah,” from the 2015 album How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, she told the crowd that Miami was the setting where the song was born, springing from an experience she had in the Magic City. Returning to places where things happened to you is “like haunting yourself,” she said. “That comes very naturally to me.” She confessed that, earlier in the day, she’d forgotten she had a show that night at all, caught up in the chaos of a long tour. It was only when she saw the people in flower crowns and bohemian-style dresses gathering outside the arena, and noted how beautiful they looked, that she remembered they were there to see her.

Welch finished with three encores. Right before the closing song, “Shake It Out,” as confetti fluttered over the crowd, she asked, “Will you be our choir?” The audience members were happy to oblige — they knew what was coming, and they were ready to belt it out with all their might.

“Let’s sing this one together,” Welch said.

Set list:
- June
- Hunger
- Ship to Wreck
- Only If for a Night
- Queen of Peace
- Patricia
- Dog Days Are Over
- Jenny of Oldstones
- 100 Years
- Moderation
- You Got the Love
- The End of Love
- Cosmic Love
- Delilah
- What Kind of Man

Encores:
- No Choir
- Big God
- Shake It Out

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