Florence and the Machine, The Drums, Babe Shadow

Sam Lee 14/05/2010

Florence Welch has done pretty well for herself really, hasn't she? Very few new artists that could even dream of headlining a venue like the Hammersmith Apollo, let alone actually sell out three consecutive dates there. But that's exactly what Florence has done, becoming a household name in less than a year. And to top it all, just a few days ago she became the first ever artist to receive four Mojo award nominations, including one for 'Best Live Act'.

So it's not surprising that there's a tangible sense of excitement in the queues outside the Apollo on this cloudy Friday night. Inside it's already filling up as the opening band, local quartet Babe Shadow, stride onto the stage, showing a surprising level of confidence for a band of their relatively low profile. They don't appear at all daunted by the size of the crowd or the venue, and the ever-growing audience responds warmly to their well-crafted quirky guitar-pop songs. A slight mid-set lull is rescued by the lively set-closer and upcoming single 'Sea Serpents', which lifts the mood right back up with its Vampire Weekend-esque guitar lines and lush harmonies, and suggests that they could well be a band to keep a beady eye on over the next few months.

Next up are Brooklyn-based four piece The Drums, who begin with a lone spotlight on the drum kit (the drums, geddit?) and launch into a promisingly dark and atmospheric intro. It's all going well... until frontman Jonathan Pierce flounces onto the stage like an over-exuberant hybrid of Morrissey and Ian Curtis, but without the authenticity or originality of either. He maintains his deliberately uncool schtick for the entire set, joined at times by tambourine-wielding guitarist Jacob Graham, who leaps about the stage like a ten-year-old who's eaten too many Skittles. Their irritating front would be bearable if they had the tunes to back it up, but unfortunately for them, their lacklustre set seems to leave a lot of the people in the room unimpressed (including me), and even with the aid of a backing track, their best song 'Let's Go Surfing' is flat and disappointing. As they end their set with a theatrical bow and shuffle off the stage, the curtain comes down while last-minute preparations are made for the band everyone's here to see.

After a surprisingly short wait, the house lights dim for the final time and the ear-splitting screams of teenage girls reverberate around the venue. Tumultuous drums begin to pound from behind the curtain and a constellation of expectant camera phones rises up from the crowd. After what seems like an eternity, the curtain finally goes up, revealing 'The Machine', which tonight consists of a six-piece strings section, ten backing singers and a harpist, as well as the usual bass, drums, guitar and keyboard combo. Then the giant disco ball at the back of the stage begins to slowly rotate. The screams grow louder and louder as the crowd gets unbearably excited until, at last, Florence emerges, arms aloft, from the mirrored ball. It's majestic, it's triumphant, it's - well, let's be honest, it's a little bit self-indulgent, but I can't see anybody complaining.

The band crash into the intense 'Howl', while Florence, dressed in a long flowing black dress, has the crowd eating out of the palm of her hand right from the off, as she flails her arms around her trademark fiery red head and struts from one end of the stage to the other. The more laid-back 'My Boy Builds Coffins' is next, giving everyone a chance to take a breather, followed by an eerie rendition of 'Girl With One Eye', which is given a sense of sinister cabaret-chic by the backing singers, who cooly click their fingers along with the drums, providing the perfect backing cast for Florence, who takes on the role of femme fatale with ease. But she's also content to just be her quirky self too, as she shows when she drops the superstar facade and sheepishly takes off her shoes between songs. Before the strings-based 'Swimming Song' she talks about the first tour she ever did, which she carried out "with just a camper van and my dad." That must feel like a million years ago to her now, as she stands in front of five thousand adoring fans, just as she did the night before, and just as she'll do tomorrow night. She follows 'Swimming Song' with 'Strangeness And Charm', a new track that sounds as though it's got some potential, although it still seems a little bit rough around the edges live.

Then come the songs that everybody's been waiting for. First is the anthemic 'You've Got The Love', which sees practically every single pair of hands in the venue thrown up in the air, followed by 'Dog Days Are Over', before which Florence shrieks "If you've got a girl with you, put her up on your shoulders!" Dozens of obedient boyfriends oblige, and mass hysteria breaks out as the opening notes are plucked on the harp. Every single person in the sweaty crowd jumps along with her as the song builds to its euphoric climax, and by the time the final chord is struck it almost feels as though the floor could cave in at any moment.

The indie snob inside me really doesn't want to like Florence Welch as much as I do, but it's pretty darn difficult not to when she consistently proves that she's got more great tunes up her sleeve than she knows what to do with. Alright, so she might have a tendency to milk the spotlight for all it's worth, but considering her meteoric rise to stardom I think we can probably forgive her for that. Tonight she completely established herself as a bona fide pop star, proving that she can more than pull off grandiose performances, which begs the question - just where will Florence go from here?