Editor’s note: Register music writer David Kerns is writing a daily diary from the BottleRock music festival. Here is his submission from Saturday.
For this music fan and observer, Florence + the Machine won the gold, the silver and the bronze for Day 2 at BottleRock 2016. In all fairness, Death Cab for Cutie were really good, having no difficulty holding down the main stage in the next-to-last slot of the day in front of a packed house. It’s a good place to be, performing before, rather than after, the green-eyed, redheaded, long-legged, operatic whirling dervish Florence Welch.
Famished after the long festival day, I walked into Gott’s to order a burger. The BottleRocker behind me in line was talking about Florence. “She’s not of this planet,” he said. Welch has been called ethereal and otherworldly; alien comes to mind. It’s not a pejorative, it’s about the scale of her talent, her endurance and, OK, the eccentricity of some of her choices. This is a courageous artist.
She is a startling physical presence. Like Michael Franti, who, in my judgment, took the gold in Day 1 of the festival, Welch is tall, and looks even taller than her 5 feet, 9 inches. The 29-year-old Londoner shows up barefoot in a gossamer and floaty yellow dress, easily seen through to a flesh-colored body stocking. The effect is elegant, bold, sexy, three of her strongest suits.
She hits the big BottleRock stage in a blur, racing from one end to the other, leaping from one platform to the next, whirling, pirouetting. She has the grace of a professional dancer and the endurance of a gymnast. Throughout the performance, she is more often in motion than not. And then there’s her voice.
Welch has said that her vocal idol is Grace Slick, a bit of a surprise given Welch’s ease in the soprano register. But like Slick, she can belt out the alto notes. She has range and power, and readily and repeatedly shows them off. What seems impossible is that she is belting and expressively phrasing, always on pitch, while she is running around the stage like a wild woman. She must have the respiratory capacity of a whale.
She performed 17 songs, all but three originals, with six coming from her latest album, “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful.” The crowd was in it from moment one, many singing along, readily responding to Welch’s gestures for audience participation. There were a number of times when this performance was in Michael Franti territory, in Welch’s infectious physicality, her unabashed advocacy for a loving world, the ability to get 30,000 people pogoing by her second bounce.
There was, unexpectedly, a moment when Welch lost some of her audience. At first there were murmurs in the crowd, and slowly a chant emerged. “Warriors, Warriors, Warriors!” The word was out. The Golden State Warriors had upset the Oklahoma City Thunder on their home court in Game 6 of the NBA Western Conference Finals. The season, for the time being, was saved.
Oh man, two miraculous performances in one night.