On the opening night of Northerly Island’s annual concert series at the Huntington Bank Pavilion outdoor amphitheater, Florence and the Machine brought the High as Hope tour to a city finally broken from a merciless winter. Shows, unfortunately, don’t happen year round at the venue, because, well, Chicago, but there was no better headliner to usher in warmth and new life (until we are all broken again come November).
The Machine set the tone for the evening, its members coming down a massive, opulent staircase hand-in-hand as they departed to their instruments. It was evident to be an evening of togetherness, empathy, and radical hope, as Florence Welch made her way down the staircase, practically floating onto the stage.
Throughout the night, Welch darted across the enormous stage, barefoot and running, skipping, jumping -- anything but remaining still, save for her time trying to close the gap between her and a crowd of thousands. She practically flowed across the stage, her voice ethereal and strong, in between songs delivering time and time again a message of unity: “(Chicago), you always bring the best energy, it’s incredible. We are one.”
Welch has something of a gift with trying to eliminate distractions (many of which plagued her opener- more on that in a moment) and create as much harmony as she can in less than two hours. At different points in her set, which spanned 19 songs, she asked audience members to embrace one another, hold hands with a stranger, and ultimately, with emphasis: put away your phones!
And it worked. The thousands of flower crown-adorned audience members paid attention and adored Welch, her HIIT class, her declarations of “American women, you deserve better!” and takedowns of toxic masculinity. It was an exhilarating masterpiece in empowerment, worth the price of admission to a destination venue on the water.
The latest from Florence and the Machine is High as Hope, released in 2018 on Republic/Virgin EMI Records.
Florence and her team also have to be given respect for consistently taking out acts on the rise and ready for their breakout moment. Previous tourmates have included Christine and the Queens, Perfume Genius, and Beth Ditto of the Gossip, all with name recognition and notoriety in their own right. On this stretch of the High as Hope tour, Dev Hynes and the criminally underrated ensemble Blood Orange were tabbed as the opening act.
For 50-some odd minutes, Hynes, singers Eva Tolkin and Ian Isiah, and the rest of Hynes’ touring group put forth a set wound tight, drawing on the increasingly deep Blood Orange discography, and heavy on the most recent release, Negro Swan. It was charged, and fraught with emotion, especially during Hynes’ solo piano cover of Blind Willie Johnson’s "Nobody's Fault But Mine." His band hit their groove, weaving jazz and funk through an R&B fusion, mixing in found sounds from the New York City streets where Hynes lives, as well as monologues on the state of existing while being black in America.
At times, Hynes seemed in a trance, disconnected from the audience, even at one point putting his hands together and resting his head on them like a pillow. Save for the spiritual “Holy Will,” led by Isiah’s otherworldly vocals, which finally elicited some life from the otherwise sleepy crowd, the buzz of finally being released from a hellish winter overtook the vast majority of those in attendance. To be fair, an opening spot in front of an audience eventually 8,000+ strong is not the worst place to be for a career musician, but it surely must’ve stung to put forth a performance worthy of a sold-out headlining set across town and be met with polite applause.
Blood Orange’s Negro Swan was released in 2018 on Domino.