Avant-garde art-rockers Florence + the Machine took the stage at the USF Sun Dome on Tuesday with a seven-foot golden harp, two pianos and a color-shifting backdrop that was part futuristic alien palace, part metallic Miami art-deco hotel lobby.
It all paled in comparison to the spectacle of Florence Welch.
The fiery-red-maned frontwoman twirled, skipped and perched barefoot on the edge of the stage while sending her huge voice soaring through the newly revamped Sun Dome.
Dressed in a flowing, full-length, dress that covered her arms and neck, Welch's onstage look and movements conjured the image of a turn-of-the-century religious revival—she'd dance wildly as if music possessed her, then fall limp, as if the spirit had left body her between songs. At other times, she seemed more like a dark flower child, skipping across the stage, fans blowing the fabric of her black dress like an outdoor breeze, and a crown of black flowers atop her red head.
There were also a lot of long, still, performance art poses, and a lot of super-slow-motion arm movements. Welch kept her banter with the crowd minimal, and the whole show felt serious, dramatic, and borderline pretentious—much like Florence + the Machine's albums often do, especially their most recent release, 2011's "Ceremonials."
Regardless of visual presentation, hearing the awe-inducing sound of Welch's voice live was more than worth the ticket. It soared, it echoed off the walls, and for the entire hour-long set she commanded it in a way that, as impressive as it is on record, is absolutely amazing in person.
Respect also has to be given to the band for not messing around with its staples. A lot of bands who take themselves as seriously as Florence + the Machine are in the habit of either not playing their well-worn hits, or changing the live versions into something unrecognizable, but Florence played faithful versions and ended their encore with "Dog Days Are Over," arguably the band's most recognizable song.
Florence + the Machine was the second major national act to play a concert at the Sun Dome in as many weeks. Sir Elton John performed at the grand reopening of the venue on Sept. 14 after a $35 million renovation that added increased seating capacity and improved the sound and acoustics. The arena's new management has said it hopes the upgrades will allow it to compete as one of the area's premiere venues for live music.
Judging by the large crowd at Tuesday night's show, and the positive response to the Elton John concert, the Dome appears to be on its way to meeting that goal.