Dallas The copper-haired Florence Welch planted herself, threw back her head and the music simply tore out of her like an exorcised spirit.
It was early on in her band's -- Florence and the Machine (or Florence + the Machine, if you're partial to needless stylization) -- brisk, intense 75-minute set at the Palladium Ballroom and the 25-year-old Welch was bringing the second song of the night, What the Water Gave Me, to a close. The final note she struck, showcasing the breadth of her luminous, multi-octave contralto, bent her body at peculiar angles, as though the sound was literally clawing its way from deep within her.
It was an utterly arresting moment, and one underscoring precisely why this left-of-center group is selling out 3,000-capacity venues mid-week. (Tuesday marked the Grammy-nominated band's North Texas debut.)
Touring in support of last year's breakout sophomore LP Ceremonials, Welch and her seven band-mates (not too often you see a harp prominently displayed on stage at a rock venue) showcased several songs from the record, as well as the tune most familiar to American ears: Dog Days Are Over, from 2009's debut Lungs.
Florence and the Machine's success is a bit confounding (although welcome) in the modern pop climate, given the fact that the alabaster-skinned Welch displays some Gothic tendencies -- the set was art deco cathedral via Fritz Lang's Metropolis; she took the stage in a cape that swirled about her like storm clouds -- and delves into unsettling subject matter, albeit obliquely. Much of her output may feel anthemic, but look a little closer.
Simply put, she's an art school girl, more comfortable on the fringes than in the spotlight. This was evidenced by the perfunctory patter, and it wasn't until late in the evening, when she briefly opened up about her family's roots in Texas (her mother's side originally hails from the Galveston area) that there was a sense of a real live human being beneath all the sturm und drang, theatrical lights and glorious cacophony.
The admittedly playful Welch didn't shy away from engaging the crowd, however: she frequently exhorted the packed room to jump up and down, even going so far as to demand that boyfriends and husbands hoist their women high during Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up).
The interactivity-at-arm's length reinforced the enigmatic aura Florence and the Machine studiously conjures, giving the whole night the air of a quasi-spiritual gathering. No overload of bewildering iconography, or imparting of suspect beliefs, but an indefinable pull, a need to lock eyes with Welch and gaze upon her severe countenance, watching, enraptured, as that powerful, majestic voice rose up and flattened you. It's too much to suggest outright witchcraft, but a true and lasting spell was being cast.