Vivid Sydney daily report #1: Florence, PVT and more

With the sails of Sydney’s Opera House lit for the fist time at 6pm last night Vivid Sydney was officially on. This year, German design collective Urbanscreen handled the visuals and as you’d expect, the end result was pretty impressive: think giant dancers beamed across the sails and geometric shapes building up and crumbling away. Even with the bar for projections set pretty high in this post-Tupcac hologram world, Urbanscreen still had the crowd around the Opera House hooked, if a tad freezing (tip: bring a coat). You can catch the lighting of the sails from 6pm every night of Vivid, as well as having a look at the illuminated Circular Quay high-rises, light sculptures and the 60+ other light art installations.

To get an idea of what went into the making of the festival we spoke with Vivid LIVE Creative Director, Fergus Linehan, who revealed his passion projects for this year’s festival including Efterklang, Karen O in Stop the Virgens, the collaboration between Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly & Bryce Dessner and the new artistic direction behind the Lighting of the Sails.

But of course, the lighting of the sails wasn’t all Vivid had in stall for us on its first night. I headed to Florence & the Machine’s Ceremonials Orchestra-backed show, while Caitlin Welsh checked out indie three-piece PVT. Check out our reviews below, and head back later today for photo and video content.

Florence + The Machine

– Katie Cunningham

It’s 8.30pm and there are a lot of very desperate people loitering out the front of the Opera House. Of course, they’re all here for Florence & the Machine, both of whom’s two Vivid shows sold out straight away and left this unlucky bunch clambering for the few scalp-able tickets around, willing to pay (so I hear) upwards of $300. For the 10 or so people looking to out the front, there’s only one English scalper (why are they always English?) looking overwhelmed at the bidding war going on around him – his “I’m getting a lot of demand here guys!” yell sounds more than a plea for help than a spruik. One guy offers a handjob as well as the cash, but even that sweetener’s not enough to buy his way in. All of which is to say: the expectations are set pretty high for Florence Welch’s Opera House debut.

Because as if this being Florence at the Opera House wasn’t enough, the ‘Machine’ to her vocals tonight isn’t her usual band, but an orchestra. And there’s a lot of them: violinists, vocalists, a piano, a harp and naturally, a conductor. And as the evenings hostess will later tell us, they’ve come all the way out from London for this. But the moment Florence Welch steps out on stage, she eclipses the 50-strong orchestral set-up behind her. As she walks shyly into centre stage, draped in a beautiful floor-length white frock and (of course) looking pretty damn babin’, it’s straight into a subdued and affecting rework of You’ve Got the Love. “I’m really nervous,” she tentatively stops to greet her audience. “This is the Opera House, so I feel like I should be proper. I’m trying really hard to be poised.”

Poised she is. Even at just one song in, it’s obvious why Florence has drawn such a devoted and diverse crowd: Welch is eminently likeable; she’s effortlessly graceful and holy fuck, that voice. As even the most casual of Florence & The Machine listeners could attest to, Welch has got some mighty vocals on her and lucky for us, they’re even more of a powerhouse live. There’s plenty of time to ponder her arguable right to the title of best working female vocalist as the set moves on through Only If For a Night, Drumming Song, Heartlines, Between Two Lungs and a particularly lovely rendition of Breaking Down. Pausing, Florence takes a swig from her water glass turns to the audience with a sly wink: “That was straight vodka.”

Welch introduces Cosmic Love with the admission that she wrote the song during “one of the worst hangovers of my life”, just part of the (often booze-related) banter she keeps up with the crowd. While these moments might snap us out of the immersion the orchestra and the faultless vocals keep you in, they’re also just damn endearing.

While this is obviously Ceremonials ’ night, we go back to her debut with a scaled-back version of Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up), before heading onto No Light, No Light and then her breakthrough single, Dog Days Are Over to close the set, at which point the entire audience is on their feet (Florence’s suggestion). Welch was never going get away sans encore, so it’s not long before she’s back with Never Let Me Go and Shake it Out to end the night. Receiving a very-deserved standing ovation, Florence Welsh takes a bow. “Thank you so much. This is a complete dream come true.” No doubt, there were plenty in the audience thinking the same thing.

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