It’s early on in Florence + The Machine’s crowning headline set in Hyde Park, and Florence is taking a moment. Storming out to a slew of big-time hits that sees the packed field in front of her collectively lose their minds and throw themselves into every note – the vast screens that cover the stage zoom in. For everything Florence + The Machine has been about in the ten years since debut album ‘Lungs’ heralded the arrival of an undeniable force in British music, the core of who Florence Welch is has beamed brightest. For the magical aura painted across every movement she’s made, it’s that connection to who she is that has captured so many, and for the 50,000 stood to witness tonight, this feels like a game-changing sight. Stopping as the cheers continue, it’s clear what this means as the camera stops. “It’s a hometown show,” she states. “It means a lot.”
Across the day, it’s a sentiment that carries through for every act. Over on the festival’s second stage, Let’s Eat Grandma deliver the sort of stunning set that signals just how visceral their evolution has become. Wrapped in fizzing electronics and greeted by a dense following, they show just how glorious second album ‘I’m All Ears’ flows live – moving from hypnotic hooks to spiralling breakdowns of layered joy (and a recorder solo for good measure). It’s a fun written across their every move, delving into the crowd and swapping instruments to unstoppable closer ‘Donnie Darko’ and signalling just how ambitious Let’s Eat Grandma are. It’s not a question of if, but when those bigger stages will welcome the Let’s Eat Grandma revolution – and it’ll be a sight not to be missed.
Equally as unmissable today, Blood Orange setting up shop on the Main Stage might just sit as the most perfectly timed festival slot of the summer. As the sun basks Hyde Park, the sumptuous and smooth tones that emanate from front to back feel like someone has whacked out their latest summer playlist and gone ‘yeah, here’s the soundtrack needed’. Utilising the stage to take his set to new heights, there’s a masterful charm to every move – from the captivating visuals and audio snippets that spread across and in between each track, or the gliding ease that his band bring to proceedings. Tracks off latest album ‘Negro Swan’ sit perfectly alongside the likes of ‘Best To You’ and ‘You’re Not Good Enough’ for a summer nod that can’t be topped. A true artist, it’s a set delivered perfectly and confirmation of just how essential Blood Orange is in 2019.
On most festival days, Lykke Li’s set served up on the Main Stage would steal the show, delivering an undeniable performance that converts the thousands gathered with ease. Striding on-stage in a hue of dark beats before standing silent, her voice rips through Hyde Park and sets the tone for the next 50 minutes. Stadium-sized pop that reaches out and pulls everyone closer, it pays testament to a career of top-draw hooks that are now finding a new found level of appreciation. It comes with ‘so sad so sexy’, an album that acts as the spine for Lykke Li’s set – one that feels born out of late-night European clubs and packed with gripping euphoria and darkness. ‘No Rest For The Wicked’, ‘Bad Woman’ and the album’s title track come alive as it pours across the park, while a detour through her turn with Mark Ronson on ‘Late Night Feelings’ elicits hands in the air and a singalong impossible to refuse. Whether it’s throwing dance shapes on ‘sex money feelings die’ or the euphoric rush that comes with closer ‘I Follow Rivers’ – Lykke Li manages to bring a welcome cocktail of underground club vibes and soaring pop power to a scorching park in Central London.
Standing atop the bill alongside Florence, The National find themselves in new terrain. Last year’s headline set to over 40,000 fans at All Points East felt like a ‘moment’ – one they followed up on in rapid form with ‘I Am Easy To Find’, an album that ushered in what feels like a new era for the band. The album’s influence is impossible to miss live, not just with a setlist that focuses heavily on it, but the newfound sense of collaboration and, well, fun that the band are evidently flowing with.
In that early evening slot, this is a band looser and rawer than ever before, throwing themselves into every element and embracing that knack for unpredictability live. Frontman Matt Berninger calls to the vast crowd in front of them as they tear through a commanding set. ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ and ‘The District Sleeps Alone In Total Darkness’ rip with ragged edges like never before, ‘Don’t Swallow The Cap’ sees a captivated crowd point to the skies and ‘Fake Empire’ cues heartstrings pulled over the place while the likes of new cuts such as ‘Oblivions’ and ‘Rylan’ feel intrinsically bound to the here and now. The addition on-stage of singers to complement that new direction (including Lisa Hannigan and David Bowie bassist Gail Gail Ann Dorsey) feels essential for a bound looking for the next step, turning ‘I Need My Girl’ into a jaw-dropping duet in the process.
As Matt Berninger reaches down to the front row, snogging fans and standing on barriers to ‘Day I Die’ and ‘Mr November’, their path is truly set. The National are clearing entering a new chapter, one that will still see devotion follow their every move, but it’s what comes after this that really sits as the most exciting takeaway from their Hyde Park tour-de-force.
Ever since *that* Glastonbury moment, Florence + The Machine has been in a league of her own. It’s why Hyde Park is filled to capacity, streaming back as far as the eye can see to get a glimpse of an artist who not only has an unquestionable bank of big-time hits but that magical something else. Unquestionably, everyone gathered is here to pay witness – a responsibility Florence takes with both hands to the stars.
Opener ‘June’ sees Florence take to the stage, and for a brief moment, the crowd fall silent – sending chills around Hyde Park – before erupting through an opening flurry that sees ‘Hunger’, ‘Ship To Wreck’, ‘Only If For A Night’ and ‘Queen Of Peace’ blast away any memory from the rest of the day. “Will you dance with us?” she asks, and what follows is nothing short of mesmerising.
Touching upon tracks from across her career, it’s a majestic run that reminds you of her place at the top of the food chain – going from an early run-through of ‘Dog Days Are Over’ where Florence implores Hyde Park to put their phones away (“if we want to say in the proper English way, as her majesty the Queen would do – PUT THE FUCKING PHONE AWAY!” she cracks) and scream away any fears – to the jubilance of ‘Delilah’ and ‘You Got The Love’.
While the setlist is glorious, it’s those moments in between that make it a special night. She pays homage to The National by singing part of ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’, speaks about her happiness at playing a festival where 70% of the bill is made up of women, and has a delve down memory lane across London and the days where “we would play any pub that would have us.” It elevates things to a night that everyone gathered will be talking about for years to come.
Taking the opportunity to play ‘Kiss With A Fist’ for the first time in nearly four years, Florence dives into the crowd and surfs into the hub of it all. She comes down and is greeted by a fan with eyes-wide and in awe that Florence now stands in front of her. Together they pour the last words of the song out together, before being engulfed in darkness as it ends. It’s in that, Florence + The Machine’s place is confirmed. There are very few artists who can capture hearts and devotion quite like Florence + The Machine, and tonight at Hyde Park, it feels like a congregation of immeasurable importance. It means a lot, not only to Florence, but to many many more.
Words: Jamie Muir