Great voice, but Florence performs like Machine

  • Article by: JON BREAM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 28, 2012 - 7:38 AM

The frontwoman for Florence + the Machine has one of pop's most tremendous voices. But as she demonstrated Friday night, she has the most affected, mannered and frosty stage presence of any big-time female pop star.

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Florence and the Machine play the State Theater in Minneapolis on Friday.

Photo: Leslie Plesser, Star Tribune

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Strike a pose: One hand with long fingers and black nails high in the air, the other similarly manicured hand stretched out to the side, with a black robe, decorated with art-deco swirls, dangling from both limbs. Then suddenly Florence Welch's arms leap into motion. Is she dancing with herself or conducting an orchestra she hears in her head?

The frontwoman for Florence + the Machine has one of pop's most tremendous voices -- opulent, elastic and stratospheric. Totally mesmerizing. But as she demonstrated Friday night at the sold-out State Theatre, she has the most affected, mannered and frosty stage presence of any big-time female pop star.

Florence may use the same stylist as Lady Gaga, the same producer as Adele and the same co-writer as Duffy. Flo may have a sense of drama like Gaga but not the sense of spectacle. Flo may have an indelible voice like Adele but no warmth and humanity. Flo may have the same natural beauty as Duffy but none of the relatability.

Florence, 25, came across as part barefoot medieval babe and part robot and totally a one-woman pop-opera. It's not surprising that a previous incarnation of this band was known as Florence Robot/Isa Machine. Flo Bot seemed to be her principal persona at the State. She had faraway eyes, formal movements and a stunning stiffness. She was oblivious to the band (she never introduced them by name or acknowledged them in any way.) She seemed lost in her own world, not the friendly, free-wheeling Stevie Nicks on steroids that she had been last June in her Twin Cities debut at the Minnesota Zoo.

Many of the fans, especially the 20-something women, seemed willing to go with Flo on Friday into her world of baroque pop, dripping with drama as she wailed about sinking, drowning and delving into the darkness. The appeal is obvious: She's Celine Dion for the "Twilight" set -- complete with the chest-pounding, histrionic hand gestures and vocal gymnastics.

While Flo has a remarkable voice, she relied on two backup singers to sustain the high notes and technology to bolster her otherworldly echoes. When she dialed down the drama of her soft-loud-soft songs, the beauty of singing could be truly appreciated. "Leave My Body" and "Lover To Lover" simmered in their soulfulness. Flo Bot loosened up for the disco-y "You Got the Love," the punkish "Shake It Out" with its post-primal scream and the mega-hit "Dog Days Are Over," during which she taught the crowd how to Pogo.

During the encore, Florence truly separated the art from the artifice. "Never Let Me Go" started with just piano and voice, displaying the richness and conviction she's capable of when she opts to be Florence the nightingale instead of Hurricane Florence. But she closed the 80-minute set with the approach she emphasized all night: Big kick drum, big scream, big roaring sound, with her voice howling like a wolf before the final chorus.

Opening the concert was Blood Orange, a one-man British band who has written for the Chemical Brothers and Florence + the Machine. He sang and played guitar, with his backup music on a laptop computer and videos of a dancing Florence shown on a white bedsheet. He broke a guitar string early on but was able to just go with the Flo.

set list: www.startribune.com/artcetera Twitter: @jonbream • 612-673-1719

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