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First Night: Florence and the Machine

She is, without a doubt, the oldest-looking 23-year-old woman I've ever seen. In fact, if she wasn't so ridiculously excited about sharing a bottle of whiskey with her band, I'd be 100pc convinced that Ms Florence Leontine Mary Welch was pulling 'an Anastacia' and spreading porkies about her real age.

Not that it would make any difference, mind. After all, it's about the voice, right? That instantaneously recognisable wail that's been swimming through the airwaves; give it a year or two and your average floppy-fringed hipster might just grow to hate it but, for now, Florence and her well-oiled machine are all the rage. And I mean, totally, like.

How else do you explain two sold-out nights at the Olympia barely five months after their last visit?

Hmmm . . . it's a tricky one all right; a brain-boggling conundrum to those of us who never quite understood what all the fuss was about in the first place.

Don't get me wrong, Welch is quite the performer. Indeed, she could certainly teach a few other British female singers a lesson or two in how to please a crowd. But is it not all a little bit . . . contrived?

Let's look at the evidence, shall we?

quirk

Flowery backdrop? Check. String section? Check. Long, white frock to accentuate the fiery red locks? Check. Throw in a couple of weird arm movements, a few gothic themes and, of course, some over-the-top quirkiness, and what do we have?

A glorified Kate Bush impersonator, that's what, albeit one with an album's worth of original and, generally for the most part, listenable material to her name. Such as Drumming Song. Or the brilliant Dog Days Are Over.

Still, am I the only one who thinks that there's something missing? That if you take away the magic fairy dust, you're left with a performer whose biggest strength is that she can howl in tune?

Sure, it's good fun to watch Florence climb atop a stack of speakers in order to dish out a few dancing instructions to the crowd, but it isn't fun to stand there and witness a young singer try too hard to be sexy, endearing, and even iconic.

Accompanied by an otherwise sublime group of musicians (aka the Machine) there's no denying the girl's talent as a confident and naturally gifted entertainer, but this is one show that, oddly enough, can be a little too bombastic to enjoy.

What's more, after a while, all of those pounding drum beats, flashing strobe lights, and earth-shattering chants just blend into each other, and there are a few duds on the setlist, too, such as Kiss With A Fist (is not "better than none", thank you very much) and the bizarre My Boy Builds Coffins.

charisma

Full marks for charisma and passion, Florence, but if you think that's enough to build a career on, you've got another thing coming.

Calm down, forget about the hideous dresses, don't try so hard, and stop shouting -- maybe then you'll be able to transform what was just another good gig into a truly memorable one.


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