Florence and the Machine leader Florence Welch introduced “How Big How Blue How Beautiful,” the title track to the group’s upcoming third album, to the Coachella main stage audience on Sunday night (Apr. 12) by saying that the song’s title was inspired by the Los Angeles skyline. “It really means a lot to be playing it in front of you,” Welch shared before delving into the track, which sounded as massive as the image it sought to evoke.
Then again, nothing about Florence and the Machine’s Coachella performance — which represented the alt-rock group’s first main stage show, after previously playing the fest’s Outdoor Theatre stage in 2012 — was small, except maybe the stage itself. Welch repeatedly sprinted across the platform during the performance and leapt into the walkway in front of the stage that allowed her to greet her front-row fans face-to-face. No stage could contain one of the best performances of Sunday at Coachella, and no other singer could outdo Welch in terms of sheer vivacity on the fest’s final day.
Gliding onstage in a white pantsuit, Welch opened with a rattling performance of “What The Water Gave Me” as she and her band (which included a spirited group of backup singers and an all-female horn section) were positioned in front of a shimmering backdrop that made the stage look like the inside of a disco ball. New single “What Kind Of Man” found Welch literally worshipping the drum kit; for “Spectrum,” she danced with the sign language interpreter on the far end of the stage; and “Shake It Out” started with Welch sporting a goofy grin and waving to her fans in the front. By the end of the set, Welch had ripped off her sheer top and was encouraging her audience to “embrace each other, get weird with it, touch each other’s faces!”
The animated performance was naturally anchored by Welch’s booming, beautiful voice, which revved up for the set-capping “Dog Days Are Over” and swooned for her Calvin Harris collaboration “Sweet Nothing,” folded here into a gentle rock ballad. Welch was at her most grounded on the new song “Ship To Wreck,” a kicky piece of pop-rock in the Fleetwood Mac vein that Welch introduced as the result of a rotten relationship while she was spending time between albums in London. “Even though all that disastrous stuff happened, I got this song out of it,” said Welch. “It all works out, and even if it doesn’t, write a song about it.”
Welch wore many hats on Sunday night: self-help guru, hug encourager, rock siren, Energizer bunny. She was also the festival natural, effortlessly returning to the scene to support her enticing new project (How Big How Blue Hot Beautiful is due out June 2nd). Followed by Drake’s uneven performance, Florence and the Machine’s set gave Coachella its Sunday night highlight.