It’s hard being a female British pop star in the United States these days — unless you’re Adele.
Ellie Goulding, Jessie J, Leona Lewis, Lily Allen, Duffy, Joss Stone and Amy Winehouse all have been one-hit — or one-album — wonders.
Can Florence Welch capture the hearts of America? “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful,” the third album by her group, Florence + the Machine, hit No. 1 last year, the first time they’ve reached those hallowed heights. And now FloMac has stepped up to an arena tour.
There was no question Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul that Welch, 29, has the kind of alluring voice and captivating stage presence to fill an arena. But her baroque pop isn’t compelling enough to hook radio programmers or deep enough to draw a full house. The X was a little more than half full, with about 9,000 fans.
Still, that’s a big step up from FloMac’s last Twin Cities appearance in 2012 at the 2,200-seat State Theatre. On that night, Welch came across as affected, mannered and frosty. Not so this time around.
She eschewed the arch artfulness and just went for the fun. She sprinted to and fro across the stage, breaking into ballerina-like spins and leaps and making a mad dash from the stage to the back of the arena (to sing a verse and a chorus) and then running full speed back to the stage. Oh, she was barefoot.
In the middle of her biggest hit, 2010’s “Dog Days Are Over,” Welch suddenly stopped singing and urged the fans to embrace one another. The person next to you, behind you — like you do at church.
Keenly aware of being in Minnesota, Welch turned somber and eloquent at one point. “It’s so hard to be here where musical legends are made,” she said. “We’d like to dedicate this next song to Prince. It’s a small song and it’s one of the first songs I ever wrote. I hope he hears it.”
Starting with just Welch’s voice and a harp, “Cosmic Love” was about the stars, the moon and love — things so Princely. It also was about the darkness when her lover left, a theme common in FloMac’s repertoire. In fact, the ensuing number, “Long and Lost,” mentioned darkness, too.
Welch’s songs can be very liberating, especially the way she seamlessly slides from soft verses to explosive choruses and back with her opulent, elastic and stratospheric voice. She certainly has luxurious lungs, but also a kind of Irish soulfulness that enables her to be robust but vulnerable. She also has a propensity for wordless cooing, a highly emotional technique that Prince would have been proud of.
Backed by six musicians and five singers (three of whom also played horns on a few tunes), Welch delivered majestic, Andrew-Lloyd-Webberesque pop that would seem to have little in common with the music of Adele, Goulding or any of those aforementioned British singers. “Rabbit Heart” had an unmistakable dance-club beat and “Mother” was primal therapy, but they and the rest of the material in the 100-minute set were clearly out of the step with the commercial musical world.
Despite her free-flowing spirit, Welch hasn’t lost her appreciation for artful touches. Her hands danced with a language all their own during several songs.
And she certainly painted her stage with drama, whether via lighting or musical arrangements. But Welch seemed to be having more fun than at either of her two Twin Cities concerts. Too bad there weren’t more people there to witness it.
Opening the concert was Grimes, a Canadian electro-pop music maker. Even though she was accompanied by two dancers and another musician who also danced, Grimes’ bit belonged in a dance club, not an arena.