I was surprised when my boyfriend bought us tickets to see Florence and the Machine for our one year anniversary when he had just asked me disdainfully the week before if I was an anniversary girl. Turns out he’s the more romantic of the two of us. But I knew this already.
In New York City you are surrounded by people. At any given moment massive hordes walk the streets, making one’s way precariously through Union Square or the Atlantic Avenue station can feel like white water rafting as you dodge left and right, weave between bodies as they flow with the current. There must have been tens of thousands of people in the crowd and Florence called the place “warm and cozy” and, as if by magic, we could touch its oozing warmth.
We found our seats in the venerable nosebleeds. The feeling of vertigo as we inched past people who stood in their chairs to let us go by on one side, and on the other a height so dizzying that I teetered a bit as tops of chairs made a jagged cliff face for two stories down. The stage was in full view. She was small and wavering. We had a view of most of the audience, which took up a good amount of the auditorium, and flowed in like rivers through the aisles, and listened and cheered.
The stage was set up like a topographical map. All of the levels were broken into layers of light wood, perhaps pine. Warm light filtered through each layer. Florence wore a peach pink dress that was just transparent enough to let the light show through. In her pre raphaelite style, the dress had shoulder pads and barefoot. She often used her long red hair as a prop to lash about while she danced. Most of the set was spent running, wildly dancing, or standing perfectly still, like a flame. The essence was refined naturalism, tender occult. Her voice lilted into the microphone softly, but powerfully. “Come dance with us,” she said, as if she had tripped out of Neverland leaving nothing but the wings behind (I would have loved to dance it all off, but we were in a precarious situation with the height).
Touring since August, Florence was supposed to be in the last legs, but now was starting off her High as Hope tour through March in the UK and Australia. And she came to Barclays at the perfect time, right when venus swung into retrograde and a shudder rippled through the community as the new supreme court justice was confirmed. Hope, is word that had so much meaning at one point. Hope is lately so awkward to hold. What is hope if it is just a dream, such a simple word for such a messy time. She embodies, and perhaps always did, this neo-new-age witchcraft that grasps at a power that can include everyone when the previously held beliefs don’t seem to be working. This was familiar and comfortable to me and everyone else with their peasants blouses and hair down.
I held hands with a stranger, a person of about 20 with short hair and a jean skirt. This may not be strange in a concert, but it remains significant. To be given permission to love, to care for, the people around you. Throughout the auditorium people were clasped together: something solid built of many.
Cosmic Love and the phones made stars. At one point in history it might have been lighters. But it still is deeply powerful to see the collective action. It did look like stars, LED stars, but constant still.
When I was 20 I lived alone in Paris. I listened to Lungs in my one room apartment. In the winter I hung my clothes on the heater to warm them up before I put them on. I listened to Shake it Off: “It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back / so shake him off.” I can’t explain it. It is a thing that can only come from deep solitude to say that that song let me acknowledge the darkness so that I could live new.
And when we left we left at a surprising pace. Whoever designed the exits in Barclays was a credible genius because we were down from that perch and in the street in no more than 10 minutes. Shattering into the night like shards. And as it is said in the fairy tale of the snow queen, the spell of the night of music can perhaps propagate.