Two impressively powerful women of indie rock.
After a few years of hearing praises for Florence + the Machine’s live performance—and after learning that St. Vincent would be opening for the band—I felt compelled to take in the spectacle of two impressively powerful women of indie rock. Let’s start with St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark). I wasn’t close enough to the stage in the expansive Moda Center to really, truly feel her raw power. But just because you don’t feel it doesn’t mean it isn’t there, and you can tell from a mile away that Clark’s stage presence leaves a blast crater around her. Dressed in an emerald green bodysuit and utilizing an array of neon multi-colored Music Man guitars, each helping to embody the spirit of last year’s Masseduction, Clark exuded an energy that feels both poised and chaotic, a quality her music has long maintained. Her motions felt mildly robotic, as she spun in place while playing guitar or did small steps back and forth while playing.
Clark filled the cavernous venue with her sound, bolstered by her nearly faceless (her drummer and synth player both wore masks and wigs) backing band. A basketball arena is not the ideal place to see angular guitar pop, but it was a blast to watch Clark power through the bulk of Masseduction (“Los Ageless” performed live is as powerful as I’d imagined it to be), with the sped-up version of “Slow Disco” (titled “Fast Slow Disco”), St. Vincent’s “Digital Witness,” Strange Mercy’s “Cheerleader” and Actor’s “Marrow” thrown in for good measure. Despite her composure, she still let the mask slip a little bit, as she giggled through an ad-libbed, Portland-centric opening to “New York”—“It’s called artistic license!” she said of adding Pok Pok and Division St. (not Ave.; sorry, Annie)—which proved to be the most charming moment of her time onstage.
Florence Welch swung the other direction in a remarkable way. Dressed in a flowy lace dress that made her look like she planned to wail in some misty moors after the show, she’s a stage presence that cannot be contained. Her backdrop was a tasteful, wood-paneled affair, with plenty of stairs and platforms for her to run around. She spent most of the evening’s performance in a state of constant barefoot sprint (yes, she was barefoot) across the stage, rarely ever staying in one place for very long. It was inspiring to watch the singer perform in a way that embraced the kinetic nature of her music.
Welch and her band blasted through the bulk of this year’s High as Hope, plus a considerable trip through her previous three albums for everyone in the room who had been there since 2009’s Lungs, a period she categorized as being fueled by beer and glitter. While her stage banter frequently skewed towards being mildly generic and sometimes cringeworthy—do I really need to hug a stranger?—her performance demanded attention throughout her 90 minutes onstage. She even allowed for a diva moment late in the show, where she came to the edge of the crowd and stood atop the barrier, handlers and security at the ready to ensure she didn’t fall. Later, she would take her mic and run to the back of the crowd to dance along with her own music while singing the song. I’ve seen Bruce Springsteen pull something like the latter trick, and it was comforting that this iteration was equally charming.
I walked out of the Florence + the Machine show with a greater appreciation for Welch as a performer, if not a greater fan of her music. She’s remarkably capable of holding down a stage, almost to a fault: I’ve never seen someone with a reasonably large band not take the time to name and thank all their players, though it makes their lovely work feel more like the efforts of great session players rather than a “real” band. Welch’s stage presence and energy alone are enough for me to want to see her perform again. Next time, though, I’d love to see her in a concert hall or a sweaty rock club, where either side of her stage personality can thrive.