Florence and the Machine Make U.S. Debut

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Florence and the Machine / Photo courtesy Randy Haecker
WRITTEN BY
Steve Kandell

On paper, flame-haired 23-year-old Brit Florence Welch seems justone of a dozen would-be divas to wash up on our shores this year.Fortunately for her, and for all of us, Welch's charms are not bestexperienced on paper. Rather, they are best experienced in the cozyish 550-capacity Bowery Ballroom on Manhattan's Lower East Side on agrimly rainy Tuesday in October.

It's hard to remember a new artist arriving so fully formed andpoised and boasting such a combination of charisma and raw talent, whose nascent stardom and potential for broad appeal seemed so assured. (Amy Winehouse, maybe, briefly, once upon a time, when the recklessness seemed libertine and not so, you know, reckless.)

Welch's pipes are the natural envy of any melisma-abusing American Idol hopeful, but never garishly exploited or theatrical for theater's sake. Despite her vaguely Stevie Nicksy frock and the stage décor (replete with a tapestry, flowers, Christmas lights, and a freakin' harp) looking like an estate sale at the Amos place, Welch is a rock singer first and foremost, the music more visceral than her slick, Gothically-charged debut album Lungs might suggest.

Synth-driven, capital-R Romantic numbers like "Howl" feel ever more electric and urgent live. It's vagina-rock for dudes.

While some performers possessing similar aesthetics might settle for sensual, Welch has little use for precociousness, instead heading directly for regular ol' sexy.

World-beating, wife-beating single "Kiss With a Fist," arriving surprisingly early in the set, is the spot where all requisite Kate Bush/Bat for Lashes comparisons fall apart. Pounding a drum next to her mic stand, Welch giddily sneers the somehow-not-controversial lyrics celebrating domestic abuse as shit-hot foreplay. That copycat bed-burnings haven't appeared in the song's wake is mildly surprising.

No twirling or self-aware mugging here-Welch is given to fits of awesome air-drumming (notably, and aptly, during "Drumming Song"), thrashing like an exuberant teen jumping up and down on her bed or, perhaps, a fan at a Florence and the Machine show.

A hit overseas much of the year, Lungs just came out here last week in the U.S., yet the record feels lived-in and familiar; certainly most of the 550 or so people in attendance knew every word, from opener "Between Two Lungs" to the "You Got the Love"/"Rabbit Heart" encore.

One gets the sense that they're at the front of what will be a very large wave. A year from now, you will be positively sick of this lady, and with sure things an increasingly rare breed, that's sort of a refreshing thought.

WATCH: Florence and the Machine on Letterman

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