Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine (photo: Ian Young)
It might have been a blustery, late-season rainy Wednesday night, but that didn’t stop scores of eager fans from packing into the Concord Pavilion to indulge in some anthemic tunes from two distinct voices in pop music.
Supporting Florence and the Machine for the start of the fifth leg of the High As Hope tour, it was clear that Hélöise Letissier (Christine and the Queens) came armed and ready to unleash her carefully choreographed and ready-for-Broadway set of sparking pop tunes.
After having to cancel an anticipated set at Coachella due to her mother’s death, Letissier was ready to capitalize on her rising prominence. While she may not have the name recognition that her fame in her home country of France has afforded her, she seems poised for an inevitable crossover, which is something of an anomaly given the queer-forward presentation of much of her work.
After adopting the mononym Chris for her latest record’s title (released in both French and English), her opening set was pristine and primed for the amphitheater’s stage and American audiences. Most of the 11-song set was heavy on the 2018 release, and while there was no backing band, Letissier’s libidinous theatrics were entirely captivating. Backing dancers wore complementary earth-toned casual wear, articulating a woman’s workmanship that felt communal and holistically created. Letissier’s powerful gender fluidity is a joy to witness, and her strength was on full display as she strutted across the stage just before nightfall. And on an evening that brought about a remarkably controversial (and arguably draconian) abortion ban in Alabama, Letissier made a point to indirectly address the day’s developments. “Witches of all countries unite for freedom!” she shouted before launching into her penultimate track of the night, “Saint Claude.” The still-arriving throngs of fans certainly seemed spellbound.
Following this set was another true powerhouse, Florence and The Machine. As soon as the sun went down, the energy went High as Hope. Welch’s signature take-no-prisoners vocals have long been the staple of the band’s success, and the night was full of soaring tales of redemption and overcoming doubts.
A decade into the band’s career, they have transcended their indie-rock beginnings, packing stadium after stadium to deliver orchestral pop that feels like a maelstrom. Comparisons to Stevie Nicks and Kate Bush be damned, there are truly few millennial artists that have the cathartic release that Welch’s voice and carefully arranged crescendos provide.
Welch was a whirlwind throughout the show — racing, jumping, and spinning across the stage in fits of unbridled chaotic grace. Similar to Christine and the Queen’s set, Welch stopped several times to call out the importance of trusting, believing, and empowering women. Before “Patricia,” Welch brought up the song’s origin, mentioning Patti Smith and highlighting the song’s intent to call out toxic masculinity. This point seemed further prescient later when the band played the recently released, celtic-inspired “Jenny of Oldstones,” which soundtracks the hit show, Game of Thrones. “I dedicate this next song to Arya Stark,” Welch said wryly with a smile.
Even as the band has skyrocketed to fame, there’s something endearing about these moments where Welch showcases her often soft, earnest presence. Early in the night, she was keen to interact with fans after acknowledging a recent spate of mental health issues. She described her trouble as a “brain blanket of doom,” laughing it off as a fan near the stage cheered in agreement. Whatever challenges that come knocking, Welch and fans displayed a symbiotic relationship in this moment, a fitting missive of emotional resonance that countered out the hardships. If feeling displaced is the drawing force behind the band’s work, Florence and company found a way to be a beacon of hope.