From the moment Florence Welch storms onstage, she has her arms outstretched like a preacher leading her flock. It's a hot, humid October night in Texas and Florence and the Machine are playing the headlining set at the Austin City Limits Festival, but despite the heat, the indefatigable redheaded vocalist leads her 11-person backing band through an urgent, rousing set.
The group is currently supporting this year's torrential How Big How Blue How Beautiful, an album that supplies songs like the distressed "Ship to Wreck," the powerful "What Kind of Man" and the cinematic title track to comprise most of the set. Through it all, Welch seems to channel her own energy source. Between hits like "Dog Days Are Over," "Shake It Out" and her new offerings, she strikes classical ballet poses, gets in the faces of the fans singing along in the front row, streaks through the crowd in just a bra and bellbottoms, and collapses with her arms and legs outstretched like a snow angel by the time she's done. The audience reciprocated her energy, fanning their arms, waving their clothes in the air (just as Welch had done) and lending a Greek chorus to her every lyric.
"It's about jumping off the cliff because you want people to feel free from judgment," Welch, who describes her state of mind as shell-shocked, says the next day about why she charged the audience half-naked. "Rather than being anything titillating, it's symbolic of letting go of inhibition and of being unashamed."
Rolling Stone was on hand to witness every minute of the group's exhilarating headlining set. Click through to see what happened.
Photos by Pooneh Ghana